Dear Advisor: How does a successor deal with employees who use him to influence the boss and owner?
Non-family employees do not often try to take advantage of a successor’s position. However, they may try to circumvent the usual steps of how the business operates and take a shortcut.
You don’t need to be rude or even avoid these situations. Instead, explain how the company deals with issues and what systems are already in place to gain the boss’ ear. Tell your fellow worker how to gain some time with the boss so that he can take the action on his own rather than have you do it for him. It’s important that he gain credit for his ideas or for raising potential issues. This will give him the message that he’s valuable and empowered to exercise some control over his work life rather than become dependent on you or anyone else.
If he’s hesitant to move ahead on his own, ask why. Help him think through the issues. He will be better respected if, instead of just presenting a complaint, he provides a reasonably thorough analysis of the issue and alternative solutions. If he can’t help you understand the issue and solutions, perhaps you should be circumspect about going to the boss on the employee’s behalf. Again, he’s probably not using you maliciously. But, like the employee, you risk your credibility if you are unprepared to fully discuss the issue.
Ultimately, if you are uncomfortable with the situation, do not simply be “the messenger.” If you think that you are being used, consider discussing the situation with your mentor, your supervisor or a senior family member. If you believe the issue is important, you certainly should be sure to get it addressed. Owners and leaders do not hide their heads in the sand. Just do not let the employee, or anyone else for that matter, override your judgment.
Caring for people, whether family, friends or co-workers, is not synonymous with taking care of them and taking on their problems. You don’t want to get into a situation where you feel you’re being used. People need to do their own dirty work and pitching, whatever the issues are. If the issue is important, take the initiative to make sure that it gets addressed. You can offer advice on how to get time with the boss and how to analyze and present issues and solutions. Try to mentor the employee on the proper way to do it. Don’t let him use you as a conduit for matters that you neither understand nor believe warrant attention.
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