What's your problem?

I'VE LOST MY TOUCH SINCE I CAME BACK. I have just returned to my old managerial job after a year's foreign posting. The internal power structures have shifted since I went away and I'm finding it hard to fit back in.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My former team grew attached to their stand-in boss, and I'm having problems leading them. And my formerly supportive superiors seem to agree that my stand-in was better and are reluctant to take my side. Do I try to talk them round, or leave and find another job?

A: Companies are usually tolerant places. There'll be stresses and strains and popular people and less popular people; but, by and large, allowances are made, meaningful glances are exchanged, in-house jokes defuse the tension - and life goes on and the work gets done. It's only when the cast of characters suddenly changes - as it did when you left for your year abroad - that the depth of that tension becomes retrospectively apparent.

From what you tell me it seems depressingly likely (from your point of view) that the combination of your absence and the presence of your agreeable stand-in led to a sharp reassessment of your own value, and clearly not to your advantage.

You may not be able to remember, but when you had those few drinks with your team before you left for abroad, was there genuine regret in the air, do you think - or could their smiling faces have concealed just a little relief?

Before you start to look around, however, try to establish one important point. Was your stand-in effective as well as being popular, or did he or she purchase popularity at the expense of a bit of good old necessary discipline? This is the question you should put fair-and-square to your superiors. The way they answer, if not their actual words, will tell you all you need to know.

Jeremy Bullmore's responses to work dilemmas in MT are collected in his book Another Bad Day at the Office? (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

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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