What's Your Problem?

I'VE BEEN ASKED TO take on a board position temporarily for six months. I am the newest arrival at the managerial level below the board and I suspect that the majority of my colleagues believe that they are more experienced and better able to do the job than I.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It has been made clear to me by the board that my promotion is temporary and I will return to the lower management level at the end of the six months, thus rejoining my colleagues. The rationale for the move is that it will help to develop my capabilities at a senior level, broaden my career prospects and is probably the least disruptive solution for the group of managers. I'd appreciate your advice about how best to develop team-working with me as the new, albeit temporary, leader. I want to deliver successfully in my director's role and yet avoid alienating a group with whom I'll be working for several years to come.

A: I CAN SEE THAT this is a neat and convenient proposal as far as your board is concerned, but it's pretty rough on you. It's difficult enough when one of a bunch of equals is permanently promoted above the rest - but, surprisingly quickly, the others adjust and life goes on. Here, everyone knows from the beginning that your elevation is to be temporary - and that will make it much more difficult for you to establish your authority.

I can't help feeling that your company is being a bit unfair in asking you to take this on. However, I don't suppose you want to duck it; and it is, for all its potential trickiness, a real opportunity.

What I suggest is that you're entirely open with your colleagues. Recognise the unreality of it all. Remind them of those training seminars where delegates are split into groups, take it in turns to be leader and compete with other groups to complete a project. Ask them to treat you as one of those temporary leaders for the six months you've been asked to take over. And make it clear that - just as in a seminar - it would be very satisfactory all round if your (their) team did particularly well. This should make it easier for those older and more experienced than you to accept what otherwise might seem demeaning. And it will certainly help smooth your return when the time comes.

But however temporary and however artificial it may seem, you mustn't be afraid to lead. Your group will expect it of you; and you'll be judged by your board on your ability to do so. If you see it as a popularity challenge, it will be a messy disaster.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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