Q: MY BOSS IS SNATCHING A PLUM JOB AWAY FROM ME
A: A posting to New York has come up in my office. I want it, but so does my immediate boss. I think I'm more suited to the role because they'd prefer someone junior. But my boss has just come through a nasty divorce and sees a stint in New York as a chance to start afresh. She knows I'm keen on the job, and has told me she'll be disappointed if I put my name forward. Obviously, I don't want to tread on her toes, but this could be a great opportunity for me.
You're right: this is a tricky one. As far as I can see, the only way to be sure of avoiding all unpleasantness would be for you to agree not to put your name forward, and then hope - perhaps because of her relative seniority - that your boss doesn't get offered the New York job after all. But there's nothing at all safe about this strategy and you could well miss out on the chance of a lifetime.
At the heart of the problem, of course, lies the fact that your boss is behaving improperly. However miserable her personal circumstances, she shouldn't be asking you to defer your own legitimate ambitions so that she can enjoy a change of scenery.
Your only alternative is to risk stirring things up. Somewhere, obviously, your boss has a boss. You must go back to your immediate boss and say: 'Look, I've been thinking. We'd both like to be considered for this job, and I think we both have the right to be. But given our very different levels of experience, it seems unlikely that we're equally appropriate candidates. Don't you think it would make sense for you - or maybe both of us? - to go and see (next boss up the line) and ask him or her to decide, on the single dimension of suitability, which of us should be the recommended candidate?' And make it absolutely clear that, if the call goes against you, you'll be genuinely happy for her and won't raise a single peep of protest.
Only if your boss is resistant to this approach should you consider raising the stakes and going higher unilaterally. That would certainly entail the burning of a whole flotilla of boats.
Q: WHINGEING COLLEAGUE IS KILLING MORALE
One of my colleagues is always complaining about his job, or moaning about our boss, or the company's management - the latter with some justification. It has created a negative atmosphere among other team members. I've confronted him about it, but now he treats me like the office brown-nose. How can I counter the toxic effect of his whingeing?
A: What I've been wrestling to understand here is the precise hierarchical relationship between you and this irritating colleague of yours. I'm not a great believer in everyone knowing their place and all that stuff, but it strikes me as probable that you've taken upon yourself the airs and responsibilities of a supervisor but without the formal authority to do so.
And nothing is more calculated to make a stroppy colleague even stroppier than a sanctimonious word of reproach from someone he regards as at best of equal status. Your phrase 'but now he treats me like the office brown-nose' makes me think this hunch is probably correct.
I'm not in any way questioning your analysis of the problem, nor your motives for trying to sort it out. I just suspect you've gone about trying to solve it in a way that casts you, however unjustly, as a bit of a self-important prig.
You say some of your colleague's criticisms are justified. If that's the case, you and your team should start by trying to get things put right rather than appearing to stifle legitimate comment.
Two or three of you (including, I suggest, the stroppy one) should put your complaints to your boss. Be fair, reasonable and constructive - and whatever you do, don't let the stroppy one dominate the proceedings That should begin to sort things out in a sensible way, from the top down.
Q: SHOULD I GO HEAD-ON WITH THE FOUNDER?
A local entrepreneur has asked me to take over as chief executive of his restaurant chain. He launched the business three years ago, but feels it's too big for him to manage on his own. He's asked me to step in because of my long track record in the restaurant industry. I'd like to accept, but I can already see where he's been making some very elementary mistakes with the business. If I take over, I'll need to change much of what he holds dear in the company. Should I warn him of this before I accept his offer?
A: Your wariness is justified; there are warning signals flashing all around you. It's one of the hardest things in the world for first-generation entrepreneurs to hand over real authority: you could fill a big book called Founders Who Couldn't Let Go. And every single story would feature a bright-eyed and optimistic successor (you, for example) whose energy and ideas were relentlessly crushed by the brooding influence of the omnipresent founder.
Your best bet is to ask to be taken on for a three-month period as a consultant. At the end of that time, the two of you should take as long as you need to go over your conclusions and your thoughts for the future.
His reactions and responses should tell you all you need to know. And if doubts still linger, you should err on the side of caution and withdraw.
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 W6 7JP.
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