by JEREMY BULLMORE, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now adirector of Guardian Media Group and WPP
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Q: My boss keeps borrowing money from me (a pound here, a fiver there) because he's 'not got to the bank' or he's come out to the pub at lunch time 'without his wallet'. Then he fails to pay me back. I don't want to get on the wrong side of him, yet feel I should say something - but what?

A: It's a long time since I heard of anybody borrowing a pound. What does he do with a pound, I wonder? Serious borrowers never touch anyone for less than a tenner, so maybe you've got something to be thankful for.

But it all adds up and I can quite see why you're a bit narked. By the sound of it, you don't put his not paying you back down to forgetfulness, either - and seniors consistently failing to pay back juniors smacks of the worst kind of abuse of power.

All I have to go on in building up a character portrait of your boss is a man who systematically borrows insultingly small sums from his subordinates and then chooses not to pay them back. This makes me wonder whether you shouldn't trade him in.

But if, by chance, he has some redeeming features, such as training you well and providing you with guidance and support, then you have a choice.

You can treat your loans as an apprenticeship fee: the cost of getting decent training that will pay off later. In other words, keep handing over the loot but don't expect to see it back. Or you can start keeping a notebook. Make sure everybody knows you're keeping a notebook. Use it to record telephone numbers, humorous anecdotes, petty wagers - and loans.

The next time your boss touches you for a fiver, pull out the book and jot down the date and the amount before you hand it over. Then wait till the end of the month and send in a detailed invoice. But if I were you, I'd go for the apprenticeship option.


Q: My competitor has started abusing me and my company in the local press and, I'm told, at local networking functions. I don't want to get heavy or start a 'war of words' but I worry that his inaccurate remarks may damage my business. Should I take action and, if so, what?

A: I expect you have already spoken to your lawyer. If not, you must From what you say a broadside on legal letterhead would seem amply justified and, if couched in the fiercest prose, it could be all you need to do. This may be what you mean by getting 'heavy' but I can't see what you stand to lose. That should certainly take care of the abuse in the local press - and your lawyer may think that an open copy sent to the editor would also be a canny wheeze.

The tittle-tattle at local networking functions is harder to deal with.

What, I wonder, is the nature of his tattle and what is he accusing you of? You worry about starting a 'war of words' - and your worry worries me. I sense you think you might not come out of it too well. If I'm right, then maybe your case isn't quite as watertight as you'd like it to be. Some of your competitor's slagging-off might even have a grain of truth to it.

So if it needs it, tidy up your act - and then recruit some friends: maybe those who've already told you what's going on at these networking functions. Ask them to note down any inaccurate and damaging comments made by your competitor and get them witnessed. Then, armed with these, go back to your lawyer.

Under no circumstances write long, aggrieved letters to your local newspaper.

Letters pages are widely read so you'll simply multiply the number of people who know you've been accused of some vaguely dodgy behaviour.

However, you say that some of his accusations are 'inaccurate'. If they are demonstrably so, you should write the shortest of letters to that effect, check it with your lawyer and insist it be printed for the record.

Otherwise, your cuttings file will for ever find you guilty.


Q: A very popular member of my team is not pulling his weight. I have spoken with him about it informally but may now need to caution him. However, I am worried about how it will go down with the rest of the team and whether it will have any impact on my authority.

A: I'm sure you know exactly what this slimy charmer is up to, but just in case you don't, I'll tell you. He's playing you at poker: pitting his popularity against your authority. I bet he did it at school, too. He was the good-looking one at the back of the class who gave the supply teacher a hard time. He likes to challenge you in front of others. And every time he gets away with it, and is seen to get away with it, his hand grows stronger and yours weaker.

It's the attitude of the other team members that's the clue here. As long as he continues to out-bluff you, they'll go on thinking he's wonderful.

So you have to break this pattern and you're in a stronger position than the supply teacher. She couldn't sack him. You can.

Consult your company secretary or lawyer or HR director; then give him a written warning and a specified date for the next review.

Forget about popularity, that's his game. Restore your authority, that's yours.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

How to: Q&A

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