What's your problem?

We run a small school - I own the business with my mother, and my brother is our headmaster. Both my mother and I have been ill recently and, in the interim, our deputy head has tried to seize as much power as she can.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

She is good at 'mechanical process' but her 'people skills' are dire. We've tried pointing this out tactfully, without success. She seems to regard all relationships as one-way - she dominates, you serve. Over the years, she has received many letters warning her of her shortcomings but continues unabashed. As a result, we are about to lose a dynamic young member of staff who admits that this employee is the reason for her leaving. Our accountant recommends we issue her with a written warning, an idea with which we heartily concur, but my brother will not hear of it. I am tired of having to defend the indefensible.

A: This is going to be tough. It's the fact that you're all part of the same family that has turned a difficult situation into an apparently intractable one. To sort it out, you'll have to pretend that your brother isn't your brother but simply the employed headmaster of a school that belongs to you and your partner (who also happens to be your mother).

The school is your business. You own it. For years, its success has been jeopardised by a deeply unsuitable deputy. Your accountant is right: she must be sent a written warning. As owners, it's your responsibility to see that this happens. The headmaster may disagree but cannot prevent. The decision is yours and you must take it.

When it's seen to be no longer a matter for debate but an irrevocable decision, it's even possible that your brother, too, will be secretly relieved.

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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