A client of mine was recently filling in for the head instructor of a personal training practice during her maternity leave. This is not the first time she’s filled in for this instructor before and she remarked that the return of the head instructor was always challenging. When the head instructor returned she usually felt that she needed to assert her dominance over my client to properly ‘reclaim’ her place. My client’s plan this time around was to just weather the storm, take some knocks, and try not to be too hurt by the behaviour.
This type of dominance behaviour is not uncommon, especially when someone ‘lower down on the totem pole’ is filling in. It speaks to a high level of insecurity but happens all the time. Unless you have a very strong relationship with the insecure person involved it can also be very challenging to confront in an explicit manner.
My advice to my client was to not wait for this problem to surface, instead setup a meeting with the returning instructor with this script: “Welcome back! Now that you’re returning we need to get you back into your former position as the head of the class — what do you think will be the best way for us to do this?”
This type of approach takes all of the potential for adversarialism off the table by firmly putting you and the boss on the same side of the problem. You are not an opponent there to potentially usurp your former instructor, you’re an ally who wants to help put them back into the head position they deserve. Now you have the potential to find a solution that helps someone back into their position of authority and lets you act with more self-respect.