What to do with insubordinate subordinates

by Jane Mason Leadership & Management

My wise friend Sabine, who is a senior and successful publisher, went through a terrible period of 18 months when she had to sack various members of her various teams.  It was difficult.  It was expensive.  It was necessary, she informed me, because these subordinates objected to her appointment (most of them wanted the top job themselves) and were consequently undermining her on a regular basis.  They got one chance and then they got the boot.  I was astonished at my lovely, kind, and ordinarily gentle friend’s behaviour.  She cannot say no to her children, so how was it that she could just sack these people.  “Shouldn’t you give them more chances?” I asked, “Why not try explaining that their behaviour is unsupportive, and request a change of behaviour.”  “No way,” was her response.  “You have to sack them before they get you sacked.”  Tac. Tac.  Discussion over.

In a freakish double mirroring (get your heads around that) I realise that my insubordinate subordinate (remember, the contractor, the one who is still at the client while I am languishing at home pursuing my baking empire) is still in the job having had a definite hand in my leaving the project and (wait for the irony) the CEO of “leadership lurch” fame (or infamy) was recently sacked.  Yes!  Sacked.  His insubordinate subordinates, the ones who made it impossible to succeed, are still there.

Don’t get me wrong:  he was failing.  However, sacking him is the wrong answer.  The right answer would have been to sack his two most incompetent, value destroying, underperforming, and insubordinate subordinates.  However, whoever sacked him did not know that.  Sadly the CEO did not heed my advice, or rather the echoed advice of the lovely Sabine, when it was given to him in October. 

For the record, here it is again:  Sack insubordinate subordinates before they sack you.