Q: I promoted one of my employees to manage a location in my small chain of video rental stores. I was running this store myself, but needed to spend more time on other aspects of my business. This employee is experienced and trustworthy, but since she became manager, several employees have quit, and I'm hearing complaints about her being too heavy-handed and bossy. Should I replace her?

A: Your new manager is probably eager to succeed in this new challenge and, as a result, has taken a controlling and directive approach. This can be rough on the other employees, especially if they're used to relating to her as a peer, not a dictator!

When people first find themselves in a leadership role, they often employ command-and-control styles of management because they're uncomfortable and anxious to make sure everyone performs correctly. Being overly controlling may send a message to her employees that she doesn't trust them, but in reality, I suspect she doesn't quite trust herself to be the leader.

The way to overcome the problem is to help her acquire a range of leadership behaviors--other things she can do to make sure the work gets done and everyone is happy doing it. Since the approaches she's taken aren't working, you need to add to her bag of tricks. Some basic and powerful supervisory techniques she can try are:

  • Ask rather than tell. For instance, instead of staffing a shift by telling an employee he will work then (or else), she could ask the employee (or all the employees) to come up with a schedule that they like and that makes sure every shift is covered. It achieves the same objective, but it wins friends instead of alienating good employees.
  • Set goals rather than give orders. For instance, perhaps your new store manager is upset to see a large pile of unshelved videos and DVDs behind the counter at the end of a shift, so she orders the employees to shelve everything before they leave. Then they get mad because they say they have the busiest shift and it isn't fair to make them shelve everything, which forces them to stay late and work unpaid overtime. The order to shelve all returns is reasonable from a business perspective, but obviously it's a source of growing conflict. Instead, it would be better to set the goal of minimizing unshelved returns, and then ask employees to come up with suggestions for how to achieve this goal. Your new manager can be assertive about insisting that they come up with an acceptable solution, but she should avoid ramming the first solution that occurs to her down their throats.
  • Show why her goals and concerns are important. Now that she is the store manager, this employee has a responsibility to think about the big picture issues that relate to the success of the business (such as why you don't want returns to pile up behind the counter and be unavailable to go back out). Her authority to lead the employees will arise from genuine efforts to take good care of that business. She needs to share her priorities for the business with her new employees, and in every case where she asks them to solve a problem or achieve a goal, she needs to point clearly to the business need that motivates her. (And if there is no good reason, then she should bite her tongue and let it go. Explain to her that she can't "chase too many rabbits" if she hopes to catch any at all.)

Your new store manager is trying to "force the horse to drink," as in the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. She needs to give some serious thought to the people she leads and what motivates them. She was recently in their shoes, so she should be able to imagine how her actions feel to them. Try teaching her the three techniques above, and see if this leads to improved morale.

Alex Hiam runs a consulting/training firm that focuses on increasing human performance in businesses. He is also the author of numerous books on management, motivation and marketing, including Making Horses Drink: How to Lead and Succeed in Business.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.