What's your problem?

I DON'T WANT TO FOLLOW IN MY FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS. For years my father has been grooming me to take over the family manufacturing firm. I've been working there quite happily, but I've realised that my real passion is for law and I want to train as a lawyer.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My father will be devastated if I leave, especially as there's no-one else to take over the company he founded. I'm torn between telling him how I feel, which will leave him heartbroken, or ignoring my own dreams and following in his footsteps.

A: There are two kinds of agonising dilemma. There are those where it's almost impossible to decide which of two options is the better (or least worse). And there are those where the better option is reasonably obvious but is much the more painful to pursue. Your dilemma falls squarely into the latter category.

Just do a bit of role-reversal in your head. Suppose that you were the father, proud governor of a manufacturing company, and that it was your son who discovered a passion for law. However much you might have planned and dreamed, can you honestly see yourself denying your only son the opportunity to devote his life to the career he so passionately craves? Could you condemn a child of yours to an entire life of regret and almost certain resentment?

To put it brutally: your father has devoted his own life to his all-absorbing interest; you must have the freedom to do the same.

The sooner you accept all this, and make it known to your father, the better. But by the time you tell him, have some plans in place, so he's not left facing an empty future. You will clearly need to recruit from outside. So identify an appropriate executive search company and draft a job description. Encourage your father to get involved early; it must be his choice. Expect him to be hard to please - he'll instinctively judge everyone against his own son and find them wanting. But as the interview process progresses, he should gradually become more engaged and more positive.

If the plan works well, your father will sooner or later find an applicant who impresses him; he may even begin to hint that this particular applicant will do a better job than you would have done Excuse him this entirely human piece of pettiness; it's a small price to pay for your freedom - and anyway, it's probably true.

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.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Public failure can be the best thing that happens to you

But too often businesses stigmatise it.

Andrew Strauss: Leadership lessons from an international cricket captain

"It's more important to make the decision right than make the right decision."

Ranked: Britain's best-run companies

These are the businesses rated top by their peers for their quality of management.

Unconscious bias in action

Would you dislike someone just because they’re from the Forest of Dean?

I ran Iceland's central bank in 2009. Here's what I learned about crisis ...

And you thought your turnaround was tricky.

"It's easy to write a cheque you don't have to cash for 30 ...

But BP's new CEO has staked his legacy on going green.