What's your problem?

MY DEPUTY HAS TURNED CUCKOO-IN-THE-NEST. I manage a medium-size printing firm. A year ago I appointed a young and ambitious deputy, who formed good relations with all of our board members. Now I think he may be using this against me.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He engineers events to make it look as though I have made errors of judgment, and the board tends to back him in these situations rather than me. He obviously feels his time has come to run the company, but how can I tackle him when he seems to have the board on his side?

A: Management books and columns are famous for giving contradictory advice, but most agree that successful managers should try to hire people abler than they are, and that they should consciously plan for their own succession. Whether deliberately or not, you seem to have followed both recommendations, with - at least from your own point of view - far from happy consequences.

Your immediate challenge is to stand back from this situation and ask yourself: is this ambitious young Turk a scheming fly-by-night of questionable principles; or is he actually extremely talented? (Remember: it was you wot hired him.) You clearly believe that those errors of judgment you're thought to have committed have all been the result of your deputy's cunning. Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure? When things go against us (and they always come in bunches), we clutch at any explanation other than our own dodgy competence and a run of bad luck.

However, if you feel certain that this thrusting young pretender has deliberately engineered events in order to smooth his accession, then it's not just your own future you should worry about but the company's. So keep your nerve, keep your cool - and keep a record of events. If you're right about his motives and his behaviour, sooner or later even your board will get his measure, and you won't have to play the unlovable part of the fading incumbent desperately trying to avoid being deposed.

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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