Dear Bob ...
I need a quick response, because I'm going to have to deal with this situation no later than Monday afternoon:
I just took on a new management position. I started last week. It's a "desk o'death" job (to use your phrase) -- I'm the fourth manager in the job in the last couple of years, and per your advice I'm viewing it as a big opportunity.
Yesterday I needed some information and asked one of my direct reports to get it for me. He seemed nervous about taking on the assignment since it wasn't his job -- I'm getting a sense my department of 32 employees consists of 32 organizational silos -- but did agree to do what he could.
He did a good job of it.
This afternoon, another of my direct reports, a manager with a half-dozen people reporting to her, left me a voice mail. The tone was unbelievable -- she tersely chewed me out for asking anyone other than her for the information in question and pointedly told me how things are done around here.
Silly me. I thought that as the boss I had the authority to decide how things are done around here.
Anyway, my immediate thought was to call the woman to slap her down hard. Instead I counted to 10 (several times) and decided to ask your advice, and catch my breath, before taking any action.
What do you think?
Dear Challenged ...
I'd advise against slapping her down hard, because it implies you would express anger in her direction. Doing so would make you less executive and something of a bully in the employee's eyes, and word gets around quickly with this sort of thing. Your version of events wouldn't be the one making the Grapevine Headlines.
In terms of tone, a combination of amusement and condescension would, I'd think, work better for you.
You're right that you have to deal with this situation without delay. And you're right that you can't let this challenge to your authority stand. Here's why: Some people define their social world as a pecking order. Everyone they know and interact with is either above them in the pecking order or below them. They have no peers and are entirely baffled at the notion that there might be such a relationship.
You can't change how they view the world, so you only have two alternatives -- they can see you as their pecking-order superior or as their pecking-order inferior.