What's your problem?

I feel I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. We've been having a difficult time at work, with falling profits and staff redundancies.

by Jeremy Bullmore, non-executive director of WPP
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The remaining staff are unhappy and look to me for guidance and leadership, but I don't seem to be much good in a crisis. I'd like to be able to boost morale and keep everyone positive, but secretly all I really want to do is resign and find a job elsewhere. Should I carry on as a manager if I don't feel up to dealing with the hard times?

A: I feel a depressing wave of patronising predictability creeping up on me, and I'm afraid I've got to spill it out. So forgive me if you already know everything that I have to say and were hoping for some miraculous escape route from your all-too-familiar predicament. I don't think there is one.

Almost everyone I know who has worked hard for promotion, and then achieved it, has been caught totally unawares by the reality: responsible jobs are not nearly as much fun as irresponsible jobs.

Rationally, of course, it should come as no surprise. It ought to be obvious to anyone that taking on a management role means being responsible for other people; worrying about their mortgages as well as your own; inspiring them when their spirits are low; disguising your own blue moods and disappointments; painting an optimistic picture of the future when secretly you may be wracked with doubt and uncertainty. But somehow, in distant prospect, promotion signals none of these burdens; just the heady delights of more money, more status, more respect - and even, most idiotically of all, more freedom.

But of course you know all this now. And what you've got to work out is whether your present sense of despondency and despair is temporary or permanent. If you stick on your smile, work ridiculous hours and through sheer force of will help your company to turn the corner, you'll feel a sense of satisfaction at the end that will be infinitely more gratifying than simply being part of a winning team in easy times. Managing is not all pain. It does have its rewards, but they're seldom the expected ones.

Perhaps you've tried all this for long enough and it hasn't worked. In which case, you must go - and the sooner the better. Your staff are entitled to good and unreluctant leadership. You mustn't let personal pride deprive them of it.


- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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