When an employee questions one of your decisions, how does it make you feel? Is your first thought, “Who do they think they are?” Are you tempted to say, “That’s above your pay grade?”

Or are you happy to take a few moments and explain why you made the call you did?

Your answer reveals a lot about the kind of manager you are.

When someone on your team questions you, it can mean several good things. First, it means your employee is engaged enough in their job to care about your decision. It means your employee trusts you and believes that you will hear them without getting defensive. It means you have created a culture of open communication and your team feels empowered to think beyond their job descriptions.

And if your employee is questioning you because they think you have made a mistake, it means they care enough about you that they want to help you avoid a misstep.

Great managers will understand all these things, and they will be happy to explain their rationale. They’ll be proud that they have earned the trust and respect of their team. Because they make good decisions, great managers aren’t afraid to explain them. Great managers will be excited that an employee wants to learn more about the company. They believe employees can understand the nuance and compromise that go into decision-making, and they’ll be interested in any feedback the employee has.

Great managers cultivate teams that feel empowered and engaged. They aren’t afraid of questions, even if they are presented in the form of a challenge. They believe employees are basically good, and that their questions are based on constructive intent.

Poor managers will feel threatened. They’ll be angry that an employee has overstepped. They’ll feel resentful that an impertinent underling wants them to explain their thinking.

Bad managers don’t like being challenged. They’re insecure, fearful that employees will disagree with them. They worry they are incapable of doing their jobs well and they don’t want to be found out. And perhaps they really do make decisions for the wrong reasons and don’t want anyone to know. Their insecurity and fear will make them punitive, dismissive, and defensive.

Employees are fast learners. It’s essential to their survival. They quickly discover what kind of manager they have and respond accordingly.

Employees trust great managers. Great managers make them feel respected and valued. These employees are engaged in their work and curious about the company. They aren’t afraid to ask about the management of the team and they will often have insightful things to contribute.

Employees with poor managers are distant and unengaged. They don’t care enough about the company to be curious. They don’t feel safe talking to their manager – they don’t want to risk a hostile reaction. If they wonder about a manager’s decision, they’ll find it much safer to assume the manager is incompetent than to attempt to learn otherwise.

So back to that question at the beginning. If an employee questioned you, how would you react? How would your peers?
And now that you know what the reaction means, what are you going to do about it?


To learn more about how to be a successful manager, read Don’t Be a Dick Manager: The Down & Dirty Guide to Management. It’s the management training you never got, available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com. The audiobook is available from AmazonAudible and iTunes.

Do you think you might be a dick manager? Take the quiz!

Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash