How to Manage (Insidious) Insubordination?

Communication and Skills


Best Practices
Helen Strong
Business Consultant, South Africa

How to Manage (Insidious) Insubordination?

Insubordination is the act or behavior of refusing to obey orders from a person in a position of authority (power). Insidious insubordination is the malignant, malicious, vicious, malign, nasty, evil form of it.

How would you deal with a subordinate who is trying to destroy you as a manager, while you do not have the full and open support of top management?

Insubordination is typically hidden and definitely not clearly visible. But it's totally destructive to the business and to the manager who is being targeted. But the damaging outcomes are not immediately apparent until problems arise and reconciliation attempts are made.

I am observing following real-life situation. A female manager is responsible for the management information system in a male-dominated freight organization with 2 sites where the movement of goods is captured into the software and then the organization knows the volume and type of goods passing through its portals. It can let clients know (real-time) where their goods are; arrival dates; and whether there are any hitches along the way. That is if everyone plays their part in capturing the right data.
Now assume that one of the site managers is feeling slighted because they want to be in charge. And who wants to work for a woman anyway? How do you get rid of her? Simple. Sabotage the system. Don't assist the data capture clerks. Don't maintain the databases. Refuse database access to colleagues. Lodge a formal complaint because you resent the fact that SHE told you to come right, and is trying to get you to do your job. All stressful and time consuming.

How should she manage this situation?
Ideally top management need to accept that the situation is happening. They need to take account of the hard evidence of the situation. Then they should provide support to the female who is trying to bring an errant bullying subordinate to book.
From the manager's side she needs a great deal of EQ. She has to have the ability to toss off the agitation caused by being blamed for the figures always being wrong. She needs to continue to point out (in writing) to the site-manager where his responsibilities have not been met. When holding meetings, or in phone conversations, record them, or ensure independent observers are present. She also has to manage her stress; take steps to re-establish her standing given the reputational damage of the false complaint.
Secondly: she needs to ensure the software automatically provides controls. i.e. it needs to balance movement of goods into and out of ports with the contracts and invoicing that are indicated via alternative entry points in the software system.
Thirdly: her administration needs to be comprehensive. It is a matter of compiling documentation of everything with timelines. Evidence of the site manager's failure to perform. Minutes of meetings held to investigate what is happening. Circulate the proposed solutions put forward by the female manager.
And if all the above does not work, gather evidence that says she can actually perform and look for a position where she is appreciated. Difficult but not impossible.



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