Analyze This

By Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on Business Week

I recently helped a young employee lead a phase of one of my projects–a job she did beautifully. Afterward, though, she wanted to take over the project. When I protested, she got angry. I don’t know how this happened. – Anonymous, New York

For some insight, you might want to rent a copy of All About Eve, the 1950 film classic about an ingenue’s plot to overthrow a leading lady who’s the object of her envy. Your underling’s grand ambition made her turn a mentoring opportunity into opportunism, and (just like Bette Davis) you didn’t see it.

Fortunately, this isn’t the norm in mentoring, so I hope you won’t sour on the idea. As for what happened, could you have missed some early warning signs? An inability on her part to connect emotionally? A feeling that you were being used? You should also ask yourself if you were clear at the outset about your ownership of the project. It’s not too late to do that now–if you’re still communicating. Meanwhile, you’ll need to tolerate her anger: Don’t let it pressure you into giving away what’s rightfully yours. And if your efforts to put junior in her place get heated, let your superiors know that trouble may be brewing. As you reassert your authority, you’re teaching your erstwhile mentee a valuable lesson: If she had tamed her ambition, she’d eventually have had plenty of time in the limelight.