#11 Case Study: Why Women Bosses Shouldn’t Permit Challenges to Their Authority

We recently came across “Why women bosses shouldn’t permit challenges to their authorityin the Forte Foundation Smart BriefBelow is a case study based on actual events (names have been changed). Update: See what happened below.

Case Study: Janetta

Janetta was a star employee. Two years ago she was hired by a boutique contracting firm out of a top school. She spoke a foreign language. She was assigned all the top projects. The owners even had interviews with her to profile her and figure out how to find more employees like her. She was promoted. But in her new role, she encountered the most unlikely of push-back: From her former trainer.

She needed to get a proprietary software off of all of the project managers’ computers. The software was being centralized in her department. The order came directly from company ownership. The company was growing, things were changing and this was part of it. All of the other project managers understood this, and had no problem with it. Why should they care? Aside from the steps associated with normal company growth, from a personal standpoint it was less work for them to do going forward. But, Mark – Janetta’s former trainer – put up a fight.


Did I just stand my ground, or ruin my career?

Janetta: Hi Mark. How’s it going?

Mark: Good, J. What’s up?

Janetta: I’m here to pick up the pricing software. You got that for me?

Mark: Oh, yeah. Janetta, that’s not going to happen.

Janetta: What’s the problem?

Mark: Well, Janetta, there are some things you just have to understand about the company.

Janetta: Like what?

Mark: We need those software programs to make sure the project is going to be profitable.

Janetta: If you have an issue with it you’re going to have to take it up with ownership. It’s not my call.

Mark: Well, you know Janetta, all the other project managers have copies. They didn’t really give you the only copy they have.


Janetta: Mark, I’ve already gotten the software from the other project managers. You’re the last one. And just before I came in here, I double checked with them that it 100% is the only copy they have. They promised, because it’s my butt on the line as my first task in this new job. They’ve got my back.

Mark: Oh well, uh [ cough ]

Janetta:  Yeah Mark, so, I guess I can’t figure out why you’re telling me something that is just flat out not true. Why you -[raising voice] of everyone – would lie to my face. You trained me for pete’s sake. And I’m just doing my job here. This isn’t even about you. I just need a stupid piece of software. What is your *&@# problem?  Don’t you feel responsible for my success? Aren’t you proud of me? Why are you sabotaging me? C’mon, man. It’s so low. Personally, and professionally. I expected more from you.

Janetta stormed out, and as she did, she saw that Mark’s eyes were actually watering. What? He had feelings? Where were those earlier when he kept lying to her face when she was trying to do her job?

Janetta tried to compose herself. She felt as if her heart was about to burst out of her chest.  From the way everyone is looking at her as she walked down the hall, she realized she did not merely raise her voice…she had been yelling.

Mark – though he had a somewhat sketchy reputation at times – had been with the company longer, and was more senior.  Janetta was the person everyone liked, and who did great work. But she wondered if – in one second – she had just ruined her reputation.

What do you think? Did Janetta over-react? Or was she in the right?

This is based on actual events. We’ll post what happened Wednesday, 7.11 at the conclusion of our Digital Classroom Summer Registration period.

Read all posts in this series.

Update: What happened to Janetta

Janetta walked down the hall, feeling nervous. She knew everyone heard her yell, and she wished they hadn’t. When she’d calmed herself down, she went into the most senior manager’s office and closed the door. She’d made the decision NOT to bother the company owners with this nonsense.

Janetta: Phil, I want to ask your opinion on something. I’ve done something pretty immature, and I want your advice on how to rectify the situation.

Phil: What, you mean how you let Mark have it? Man, everyone’s been dying to do that for years. You’re the office hero right now.

Janetta: But….I don’t understand. My behavior…it was so unprofessional.

Phil: Look, Janetta, normally – I’d say yes. But Phil, he’s been creeping around here passing off people’s work for his for a long time. People are sick of it. No one’s had the guts to give them a piece of their mind until you came along. We’re all wondering why it took a recent college grad to do it, and why we didn’t do it. But just don’t tell anyone I said that.

Janetta: Mum’s the word.

Phil: And, in the future, it’s probably better to do stuff like that out of earshot. But, in this situation, you have nothing to worry about. At all.

Janetta walked out of Phil’s office absolutely stunned. Office politics could be one of the strangest games she’d ever encountered. She felt like she’d dodged a bullet. She knew the right way to handle things going forward. Though, strangely, for the next few years of her career at the company – she never encountered anyone challenging her authority ever again.


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6 thoughts on “#11 Case Study: Why Women Bosses Shouldn’t Permit Challenges to Their Authority

  • Friend of the @HotMommasProj Bob Burg likes our approach – I bet he can’t wait to find out what happened.

    Bob Burg ‏@BobBurg
    @ChiefHotMomma Kathy, I love what you’re doing. Your post about the person yelling at trainer will result in some superb lessons 4 readers

  • Twitter convo w/ friend of @HotMommasProj: @LeeJCarey

    RT @LeeJCarey: @ChiefHotMomma this immature approach does not fit in management, leadership or stewardship, and that has nothing to do with gender.

    Q: ‏@ChiefHotMomma to @LeeJCarey: “thx for reply and will post. What would you have recommended instead?”

    A: @LeeJCarey: A coffee break, a review of the corporate objective, an evaluation of how to proceed considering the needs of both roles.

    Q: @ChiefHotMomma to @LeeJCarey: “Devil’s Advocate: this is direct order from ownership. Take his request / need to ownership or she handles?”

    A: @LeeJCarey: developing the influence to win is more sustainable than leveraging the authority to win

    • When I first read Lee’s statement, my only concern is that it would be giving extra air time to Mark, when this was already a directive handed down from ownership. But when I re-read it, I realized this was a good approach. Lee was not suggesting a meeting with ownership, but a discussion with Mark over coffee. This is an addition to Tonia’s “take it outside” suggestion and adding the social element of coffee which can help remove the confrontational aspect and diffuse the situation. Smart. This was definitely a “count to 10” situation, and Janetta was lucky that people in the office just happened to really have it out for Mark. Even so, Janetta still could have been reprimanded for her behavior. This was a smaller, collegial environment where they could “let it slide.” In a larger company, she might have been written up.

  • From Tonia Sanders™ ‏@TheChattyMomma on Twitter

    Janetta shld have taken mark outfor a discussion. No one else should be privy, but a talk was in order.

    She continued…

    I’m just glad she addressed the issue instead of being passive-aggressive, but she was too loud to keep other’s respect.

    • As you can see, Tonia would be right in normal circumstances – but because of building tension in this unique situation, Janetta was supported by her colleagues and “dodged a bullet.” In most cases, Tonia is correct and inflammatory conversations should be concealed from public eye.

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