What's your problem?

MY CHAIRMAN IS A BACK-SEAT DRIVER. I was recently taken on as manager for a small company. The chairman, despite deciding to take a back-seat role in the business, constantly interferes and goes over my head with clients.

by Jeremy Bullmore

I'm at the end of my tether after three months in the job, but I feel the business has a great deal of potential. I'm reluctant to cause a scene as I'm on a six-month probationary period. How can I assert myself and take control without jeopardising my position?

A: I strongly suspect that the company you've joined is a relatively young one and that your current chairman is its founder. If so, you face an even more intractable problem than you may realise.

Founding a company may sound like a pretty routine piece of administration, but it's not. To have an idea for an enterprise and then make it happen demands extraordinary energy, self-belief and perseverance; a readiness to look the occasional fact in the face and deny it; the courage (self-centredness?) to bet your house and family on the outcome; and a night-and-day commitment to success that may border on the obsessive.

To the founding spirit, absolutely everything is at stake; not just money, but pride, vanity and self-esteem; it's the single throw of the dice on which an entire career will be judged. So do not expect founders to behave like ordinary people. They identify with their creation in a way that other managers, however conscientious, never will. They see themselves not as employee but as parent.

So when your chairman announces his intention to take a back-seat role, he may very well mean it; but to hope that he won't behave like a back-seat driver is to hope for the impossible.

You have a difficult choice. You can face the reality, acquire inhuman quantities of tolerance, accept that his interference will be a constant around which you will work - and wait for time to sort things out. This option is attractive only if you are convinced both of the company's potential and your ability to run it well.

Or, of course, you can cut and run. But what you must avoid is drift, or you'll wake up one morning in a few years' time to realise that the ideal moment for decisive action is now behind you and your own will to win has been seriously and permanently blunted.

- 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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