UK: What's your problem?

UK: What's your problem? - FRICTION AT THE TOP

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


I find one of my board colleagues extremely irritating. I think his ideas may be good, but his voice and manner put me off. Unfortunately, my chairman seems to get on well with him. How can I overcome my bias?

I strongly suspect it's not his voice and manner that piss you off; it's that his ideas are good and he gets on well with the chairman.

Now, please don't throw your crayons on the floor. Just ask yourself these questions - and answer them as dispassionately as you can. Do you feel in competition with this colleague? Do you, at heart, think he's better than you are at some things? Does your chairman think your colleague's ideas are better than yours?

If you say yes at least once, however reluctantly, then you're not suffering from anything as trivial as bias: you've got good old-fashioned envy inside you. And once you've acknowledged the presence of that entirely human condition, you'll be well on your way to recovery.

First, list all the things you know you do well - and do better than he does. (If you can't think of anything, call your favourite head-hunter immediately.) Grab the first opportunity that comes up for the two of you to work together on an important project. Do only those things you know you do well. Allow him to do the things he does better than you. Be heroically forbearing if he sometimes trespasses on to your territory It will soon become clear to both of you (and to your chairman) that you have complementary skills.

If the project proves successful, resist the temptation to claim any credit. (But feel free to enjoy some small, private pleasure at what you've achieved.) And when you're having a drink together to celebrate your shared triumph, you might even tease him a little about his voice and his manner. (Though by then, of course, you may not find them irritating.)


A merger means I have just been made redundant with a generous redundancy package. I am a marketing director and have already had several attractive offers, but I wonder whether I should take the opportunity to start up on my own. On what basis should I make the decision?

There is a significant omission in your question. You talk about starting up on your own but give no indication of what you might do. It sounds as if you're entertaining the thought as an abstraction.

Starting a business of your own requires levels of drive and commitment that border on irrationality. Successful entrepreneurs tend to be passionate about something as well as the simple notion of success. They're potty about printing or engineering or catering or computer games or model aeroplanes or old maps or the internet. That's what gets them through the deeply discouraging early bits, takes them to eight bank managers before they find the right one, enables them to fire an old friend because he's not delivering, and keeps them working and worrying seven days a week, often at huge cost to themselves and their families.

You may have all this - but it doesn't sound like it. It may be you believe that working for yourself is intrinsically more noble than working for others - but that's daft. You're clearly a good marketing director - which means you've been a success as a member of a team. I sense you wouldn't have even contemplated branching out had it not been for your redundancy and unexpected capital and I suspect you're one of those many people who are by disposition far happier applying a skill to an existing enterprise than they would be out on their own. And there's nothing weedy about that.

With just one caveat, I would urge you strongly to cut the fantasy and take one of your offers. The caveat is this: if my recommendation fills you with uncontrollable rage, so utterly have I failed to understand your ambitions, then ignore it totally.


I am worried my company may collapse. My chief executive is a bit of a dictator and often withholds information. I must find out whether my fears are justified. I have a department to run and my career to think of. Privately, I think the chief executive's extravagant lifestyle and lack of judgment are the company's biggest problems.

If you're right in your assessment of your chief executive, he or she will sooner or later bite the dust. The trouble is, it could be too late, so you must do two things: first, prepare an exit plan (chances are you're going to need a new job, so start the process now); at the same time, talk in confidence to your chairman or to any non-executive director with whom you have a good relationship.

You cannot in good conscience just tiptoe away, leaving other people and your department to fend for themselves: you must record your fears with someone - and look after your own future.

But do not, under any circumstances, confuse these activities or you will be thought to be politicking. If, by chance, the chief executive gets a swift comeuppance and your company looks set to prosper, you can quietly put your exit plan away. But if nothing happens, you owe it to yourself and your family to get the hell out.

Remember: the worst thing that can happen is that you get fired, with hefty compensation, from a company in whose future you currently have no faith.

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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