WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?

WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM? - SHOULD I BOW OUT GRACEFULLY?

by JEREMY BULLMORE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

SHOULD I BOW OUT GRACEFULLY?

We have posted a third drop in profits for our FTSE Small Cap company, of which I'm the chair. The shareholders and executive board are getting restive and have hinted that they'd like me to leave. I'm worried no-one else will want to employ a 62-year-old chairman with a less-than-excellent string of financial results behind him. Perhaps I should leave to clear the way for someone new. Yet I don't want to sink into defeat and possible early retirement. Can you advise?

Most of us are extremely skilled at failing to absorb unwelcome information. This leads me to suspect that, since you've actually registered the hints being dropped by your board and your shareholders, they must have become pretty heavy ones.

In situations such as this, most civilised people, at least initially, try to be considerate: to put things as gently as possible; to drop hints rather than make explicit, hurtful demands. So you'd be wise to assume that several serious conversations will have been held about your continued competence and that there exists a strong movement to see you go. (If I'm wrong in this assumption, it will soon become apparent: see later.)

Given all this, I can well understand your self-absorption, but I honestly can't condone it. This is not your company: it's your shareholders'. Yet when you contemplate your options, your only consideration is yourself.

You fret about an unwanted early retirement and the difficulty of finding alternative employment, but you seem to give no thought at all to those who own and work for a company that is losing its way under your leadership.

As I bet you know in your heart of hearts, it's crystal clear what you've got to do next. You must call a meeting of your executive board and ask them, in the light of the company's recent performance, to let you know, in writing and within a week, which is in the better interest of the company: for you to stay on, or for you to step down as soon as a changeover can responsibly be managed.

Whatever you do, don't ask them for an instant response while you're still in the room. A mixture of compassion and embarrassment will make them less than straightforward with you - and this is no time for half-truths and ambiguities. If their written response is a unanimous and unequivocal statement of support, all clouds will be lifted and you can begin to do everything in your power to turn the company round. But it's much more likely, as we both suspect, that you'll face a request for your resignation.

Believe it or not, once the truth has been established and there's no going back, you'll begin to feel better. You probably won't find another chairmanship - in fact, you shouldn't even try for one. Instead, identify your single most valuable talent or asset and set about marketing that on a freelance basis. You may miss the status, but it's an ideal way of making retirement a gradual process rather than the instant, brutal termination of a lifetime's endeavour.

COLLEAGUE WHO STEALS ALL THE BROWNIE POINTS

My colleague seems to exist entirely to show me up. If my boss asks me to do something, my colleague will rush to do it first and then get the brownie points from my boss. He contradicts me in meetings and makes a point of knowing exactly what I'm working on, so if I make a small error he's on hand to point it out to our colleagues and to tell them how he would have acted to avoid making the same mistake. It's making my life a misery, and I wonder whether I should just have it out with him?

What a deeply devious creep your colleague sounds. Is he like this with everyone, or just with you?

The real problem, of course, is that you're now suffering from a serious case of resentment build-up. Because you've so far held your tongue, you've been bottling up slights and indignities to the point, I suspect, where you have begun to magnify or even to imagine them.

If you're still in this state when you decide to have it out with him, the chances are you'll do it very badly. You'll blurt it all out, get your facts slightly wrong and undermine your case by resurrecting some extremely trivial and ancient incident. Avoid such a confrontation at all costs: you'll end up feeling inadequate and humiliated - and your odious colleague will simply smile and smile and carry on baiting you.

But you can't continue to stay silent and expect to stay sane: so you need to prepare yourself very, very carefully.

Try and drain yourself of pressure. Invent a sort of detachment. Step outside yourself and wonder what kind of inadequacy your colleague must feel that compels him to behave like this. Recognise that, if it were all happening to someone else, you might even find it mildly amusing.

Then ask the odious one for a drink. Choose a place you're comfortable in. Then say, absolutely without heat: 'I just thought I'd warn you, Geoffrey: the next time you try and stitch me up in a meeting, I'm going to blow this whistle.' And you show him the whistle. And grin.

The thing about Geoffrey, you see, is that he needs an audience. Alone with you, and with you relaxed, his confidence will evaporate. And if he does ever try to stitch you up again, you should blow your whistle and explain to your slightly bewildered boss: 'Sorry about that. But I did warn Geoffrey that if he ever tried to stitch me up in a meeting again, I'd blow the whistle. And he just did.' You'll have them all on your side.

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into

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