A reader writes:
For the last 10 years, I’ve been the head of a community-based organization. My assistant director, along with at least a third of the employees, pre-dated my employment there. “Bob” didn’t seem to want my job himself, but the head of operations warned me about him, saying he was was a snake with loyalties only to the long-time employees who worked under him.
Sure enough, from the start, he made it clear he didn’t think I was up to the job. We eventually came to have what I thought was a functional working relationship, but it was still strained. I tried to find out why by gently questioning, but he never fessed up. It was just a general attitude of faintly sour disapproval, which was strange because the program improved and expanded under my leadership. Eventually, to my relief, he decided to completely retire.
What I didn’t know was that he was undermining me at every turn, and behind my back would openly sneer at me in front of other employees. I think that part of it was that my style was to build consensus and discuss things, which he interpreted as lack of confidence, when really I valued his and other employee’s feedback.
After I replaced him with a talented employee who did a beautiful job, I realized how entrenched his work had been; he had been running an expanding program as if it was still small. I have been very happy with the way things are operating since his departure.
But Bob has been meeting with some of my employees and trying to stir up trouble outside the office. When I had to make a decision to change some strategies, my long-time employees got very upset. There were no cuts, but staff had to change their traditional way of doing their jobs for a period of time, which led to much dissatisfaction. They met with Bob outside work, and he stirred them up. He still calls his friends from the office and pumps them for gossip about me, which they then spread around to others on staff. It’s a very weird dynamic. It definitely undermines my work.
The things Bob is doing — encouraging gossip, backbiting, and general negativity, which I hear from a few staff members who are still in touch with him — are downgrading my reputation in the eyes of the staff who worked with him over the years, even though he has left. It’s almost as if he’s on a personal vendetta. What can I do?
I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.