How to Survive a Micromanaging Boss and Prima Donna Too

I'm a 1st-line manager at a well-known gym and am working under a Senior Director for which this is her first managing position. This Director is a micro-manager, with all the expected trimmings. Unfortunately, she also tends to micromanage the supervision of our own staff. An example of this is as follows:

I have a Prima Donna instructor who I've had to warn that I will write her up if she doesn't start punching in and out on time. She punches in and out in such a way that sometimes, she adds 30 minutes or so onto her pay before I adjust it back to it's proper time. My manager has told me not to talk to her about it anymore and has told her that she can punch out up to 15 minutes past the time she's supposed to punch out.

My supervisor has a favorite thing to say, “You can't talk to instructors the way you talk to other staff.” My colleageues and I are frustrated because we're held accountable when our staff don't perform, but we're discouraged from correcting poor behavior. I would go so far as to say we're blocked altogether from doing so.

I feel that this is undermining the fact that I want my instructors to be treated the same way (as much as possible). My manager seems to be a favorite of her supervisor and previous attempts to talk to her supervisor regarding these behaviors have been met with pushback.

What can I do to start to turn this situation around? At least the team has changed enough that now I'm not the only one that sees and is affected by this situation. I was on my own for a few years on this one.

Thank you so much, I love your website!

The Team Doc Says…

Thank you for the compliment! I'm glad the website is helpful.

There's a lot of stuff going on here, so I'll try to address each issue. First let's talk about your management. Sadly, you're a bit stuck here. It's really hard to be a front line manager whose actions are overridden by the people at the top. It sounds like that's a common cultural characteristic that you have to live within if you want to stay there.

The good news is that you're not alone because you have the support of your peers. If you want to tackle “changing the boss,” it will be tough to do but at least you can use each other for moral support.

One of the things you'll want to make sure and do here if you have discussions with your peers about actions you can take is to come at it from a “what could I do differently” or “how could I look at this differently” perspective. When we get annoyed with behavior (and rightly so in this situation), we have a tendency to set our minds in the “well she won't do this” or “I can't believe she said that” mode. That doesn't get us to any kind of space where a solution is possible. So start tackling the issue with your supervisor from a position of, “If I were her, how would I want my staff to address this?” perspective. It may help you make the work environment a bit more palatable. And it could actually make a difference!

Now for your Prima Donna.

It doesn't sound like you'll get much support here. I don't truly understand why your supervisor says instructors should be treated differently than other staff — but there must be some special “status” in her mind that drives that thinking, silly as it is. Since your boss doesn't want you to mention the time issue to this person anymore, you could come at that from a different perspective too. Find out what's driving this person to punch in and out at improper times. Is she helping someone else do something? Is she just forgetful? You probably feel like she's just doing it to annoy you, I'm sure. I would feel that way too. But that may not be it at all. Take some time to open the lines of communication with this person and see if you can find out what makes her tick. Then you can tap into that and possibly turn her around.

Good luck to you and do check back to let me know how you are doing!