Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


'I am a senior lawyer who enjoys working on big cases and have done well at that. Over 12 years I have been given more responsibility and exciting work. The senior partner now says that unless I do more selling of the company I am unlikely to be made partner. I don't like selling and don't want to be a manager or bureaucrat, but I want to be a partner.'

There are two basic possibilities here. Either your senior partner's an idiot or you haven't heard what he's really saying. If you are as good as you say at what you do, and as bad as you say at selling (whatever that might mean), he's insane to want you to change your way of working.

But what he might be saying is that partners aren't called partners for nothing. They're not supposed to be selfish; they're supposed to be all in it together. But that's not how you seem to work. In other words, he may be trying to tell you that until you show you can join in and do a bit of work for the common good, then you haven't demonstrated the right partnership qualities.

Only you will know which of these possibilities is the right one. If he's an idiot, get out. But if he's just giving you a nudge or two, then mend your ways, stay on - and prosper.


'I have recently been made head of my department, having spent several years as one of its members, and am finding it difficult to impose my authority. I know I am going to have to fire some former colleagues to reduce overheads and the idea of that keeps me awake at night. Am I in over my head?'

Everyone who has ever been promoted from within has faced this problem.

Only right bastards enjoy it, and you clearly aren't one. Hang on to that word 'recently': because it will soon get better. Meanwhile, try two things.

First, try to imagine what it's like to be your colleagues. They know perfectly well that you can't go on being one of the boys forever, but they are not going to make it easy for you. Why should they? You are the one who got the nod. But it will be as much of a relief for them as for you when the new relationship settles down. Which it will.

Second, pretend you've been brought in from outside. Make your judgments on facts and observation, not sentiment. Nothing will make firing colleagues easy - but don't expect sympathy. However much you hate it all, be very, very generous with your time. You may think the first conversation will be the worst, but it won't be. They'll go away and talk. They'll think how unfair it all is and the resentment will bubble up and that's when you must talk again, and when you must listen ... and listen ... and listen.

Whatever you do, don't blame someone else further up the line. Don't pretend, had it been left to you, it wouldn't have happened. That's the quickest way to lose both old friends and new respect.


'There are two candidates left for the top job in one of my company's most important divisions. Both, a man and a woman, are in their mid-thirties and capable. I am worried the woman is likely to want a baby in the next few years and require a substantial amount of time off But I am also keen to promote women; we have so few in the company.' What is the best way forward?

Now you know why you get paid so much. You're faced with an extremely difficult decision, made all the more so because, whichever one you go for, there will be those who'll think you've been influenced by prejudice.

Since you can't avoid such suspicion, you must satisfy yourself, if nobody else, that you haven't. My best advice is that you should go through a few systematic checks - then trust to God and instinct.

Check One: pretend to yourself the woman isn't a woman: so you can ignore the possibility she may need time off. Which of the two would you choose then? Is it still a dead heat?

Check Two: forget you are keen to promote women. If you already had an equal number of men and women in senior positions, which of the two would you choose?

Check Three: analyse their management styles. Are they good at setting long-term goals and letting people get on with it? Or do they need to be around to be effective? If you're right about her wanting children, this will help you determine how serious, if at all, the occasional absences might be.

Check Four: stop thinking about the immediate effect of the choice. Whatever you decide, it will be unpopular in some quarters so don't let your worries about that influence your decision. Think two years down the line: under either leader, how successful will the division be? That is what you'll be judged on, nothing else. You should now be quite a bit clearer in your head. With any luck, you will wake up one morning quite soon and find that, by some mysterious process, you've come to a decision.

A last tip: once your decision is made, you will be faced with one easy conversation and one difficult one. When passing on the bad news, you must absolutely resist the temptation to soften the blow; to imply that if she had been a man, or if he had been a woman, it could so easily have gone the other way. You must assure them both that you simply set out to pick the better person for the job. And you will only be able to say that with conviction if you have done so.

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W67JP.

Or e-mail: Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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