7 Tips To Handle Employees Who Think They Are the Boss  

As a manager, you get to deal with many challenging situations where employees are concerned. One of the most frustrating challenges that you may face from time to time is the employees who think they are the boss.

When placed in such a position, it’s best to deal with the insubordinate employee sooner than later. If you don’t, other team members may start to perceive you as a weak leader.

To ensure that you nip this problem in the bud before things escalate, I compiled this guide on how to handle employees who think they are the boss.

Why Do Employees Act Like They’re the Boss?

employees who think they are the boss

Employees can undermine your authority for various reasons. Determining the reason why the employee is acting like manager will help you to deal with the matter more effectively. Here are some of the common reasons employees challenge the authority of a manager:

  • They want your job. This type of employee is difficult to manage since they are typically strong-willed and over-confident. They will undermine your authority in order to derail you and rally the other team members against you.
  • They honestly think they know better. It can be equally difficult to deal with an employee who thinks they’re cleverer than you. The best way to handle this type of employee is to prove their thinking wrong in practice.
  • They are inexperienced and lack understanding. When an inexperienced team member exerts themselves in an inappropriate manner, they may just be trying to prove themselves. These employees are easier to handle since they will learn through experience and are also bound to change their ways after a serious one-on-one chat.
  • They are socially awkward. Some employees may have actual problems they’re dealing with, such as mild autism, which can lead to inappropriate social behavior. Such employees may mean well but lack the ability to express themselves in a socially acceptable manner. Since an inappropriate reaction from your side can cause such team members harm, it’s important that you thoroughly assess an insubordinate team member before you act.

Read More: 7 Helpful Ways to Address Lack of Professionalism in the Workplace

Dealing With Employees Who Want To Run the Show

So, in answer to the issue of how to handle employees who overstep their boundaries, here are some guidelines you can follow:

1. Think About The Situation

employees who think they are the boss

If you’re wondering how to put an employee in their place, the first step should be to objectively look at yourself. Although this step is not the most pleasant or easiest on this to-do list, it is necessary. Any good leader should have the capacity to take an honest look at themselves and their management style before they act.

First, do you perhaps not like it when a team member challenges your ideas? If so, the fault lies with you. A team who just says yes to your instructions all the time is counter-productive. It’s good to have members under you who challenge you at times. They must just do so in a professional and respectful manner, though.

Also, are you perhaps making mistakes or treating your team members in an inconsiderate way? Perhaps your managing style needs work and the insubordinate team member is voicing the concerns of the team as a whole. If so, you can reach out to a mentor or supervisor for advice, or you can educate yourself through courses, webinars, and self-help books.

2. Have a One-on-One Chat

employees who think they are the boss

How to tell someone they are overstepping the line can be tricky. However, I sincerely advise you to have an open chat with the team member.

As is the case when a teacher is dealing with a disruptive student in their class, you should talk to the employee in private about their unprofessional behavior. Rectifying the situation with an honest conversation would be first prize.

The aim of a one-on-one chat is first and foremost to inform the employee that you regard their behavior as inappropriate. You need to clearly point out to them where they are overstepping the line, and should back up your argument with real-life examples of where their behavior was unacceptable.

Second, having a chat with the employee is an effective way to learn more about what the motivation behind their insubordination may be. Perhaps they’re not even aware that they’re acting in this way, or perhaps they feel unappreciated. It’s vital that you assess the employee carefully so that you can react in the appropriate way.

3. Remind Them of Their Job Description

employees who think they are the boss

When an employee is acting like a manager, it is a good idea to remind them of the relevant boundaries by using objective criteria, such as their official job description. In the event that your initial one-on-one chat didn’t change the team member’s behavior, you should arrange a second, more formal meeting.

During this meeting, you should ask them to describe their position and responsibilities to you. Since you want to keep the conversation objective and clear, it’s best if the employee writes or types their response. You can then compare their version with their official job description and should clearly point out any discrepancies.

While you may not want to show the team member your job description, you should type out some of your most important responsibilities as a manager beforehand. These can then be compared to the team member’s responsibilities. If you think it will help, have a document ready for the team member to sign in which they state that they understand their duties.

4. Be Willing To Take on Some of the Employee’s Ideas

employees who think they are the boss

In the event that the employee sometimes comes up with a viable idea, you can demonstrate your leadership by taking some of these ideas on board. Doing so will show that you’re confident enough in your own abilities to allow members of staff to make contributions with regard to how things are done.

Allowing team members to give their input with regard to how you manage projects and your team in general, while also maintaining your authority, can be a tightrope to walk. It’s advisable to only take ideas on board that are really better than your own and to not do so too regularly.

However, you can also opt to provide the employee with more responsibilities and seniority without this impacting your decisions as a manager. I.e., you could decide to promote them from junior project manager to senior manager, if you’re leading a project office.

5. Allow Them To Make Mistakes

Employees who think they are irreplaceable can be taught a lesson by allowing them to learn through their mistakes.

If one of your team members constantly questions your decisions or undermines your authority by implying that they know better, you should allow them to take the lead when it comes to tasks that are not that important and won’t have a negative effect on customer satisfaction or turnover.

Employees who are all talk but no walk will probably be completely out of their depth when it comes to actually implementing their ideas. Be sure to saddle them with quite a tricky task or problem, so that they have little chance of succeeding.

The aim is not to belittle or demoralize them but to show that managing a team is first not easy, and second, that it requires grit, experience, people skills, and expertise.

6. Get Them on Your Side

employees who think they are the boss

In the end, it’s much better to gain the employee’s support and respect than to continue down a path of warnings and disciplinary hearings. When you’re having the initial chat with the employee, it’s perhaps a good idea to invite them for a quick cup of coffee at a coffee shop, as opposed to meeting in your office or the conference room.

While the aim is not to become best friends with the employee, it’s a good idea to share a few details about your life, so that they can see another side of you. Tell them about the cricket match you attended last weekend, or that both of your kids are studying overseas.

Realizing that you’re not just a manager but a friend, a husband, and a dad, may change the employee’s perception of you.

Talk to them about their career and aspirations, and whether they’re happy in their job. Also, ask them how they think you can help them achieve their goals. You can then offer assistance where it’s possible, and then inform them about what you require of them in turn.

7. Provide Them With the Necessary Support

It is perhaps expecting a lot to think that an insubordinate employee will change after one conversation, especially if their behavior is part of their personality or they’re in the habit of acting this way. You want to provide them with the necessary support so that it will be easier and possible for them to change their ways.

You can send them to relevant training courses, or enroll them in online courses, which deal with teamwork, communication, and people skills. If possible, you can also provide the employee with a mentor, who you can talk to beforehand regarding the issues you’re having with the employee.

Since a good manager aims to empower their team members, you can also talk to the employee about professional development. If they’re interested in becoming a manager, create a professional development plan to help them reach that goal within a specified timeframe. It may, for instance, be a good idea for them to obtain an MBA.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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