c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
Q. I’m an interim chief executive at a $10 million-plus company with 30 employees. The founder and 100 percent owner is well past retirement age, and he’s hired a name-brand executive search firm to recruit a permanent CEO; he brought me in so he could learn how to “let go” of running the business day to day.
He thinks he’s done that — but he insists on being in the office and casually talking to employees about what they are doing. This is really confusing the troops, who don’t know how to handle it. I’ve explained this to him, and he’ll pull back for a day or two — but then he falls off the wagon.
The board of advisers and I have tried to get him not to be in the office at all — or only a couple of days a week — and he just will not listen. He has a grandson who loves to play golf with him near the retirement home he owns out of state. Maybe that’s the key? My concern is that we’ll never be able to attract a top-notch CEO as long as he’s meddling — and that I’ll be stuck in this assignment for a long time. — ANONYMOUS, BOSTON
A. The fact that you used the phrase “falls off the wagon” is telling: This gentleman is addicted to running his company, and while you’ve explained to him why it’s a problem, you’re clearly going to have to double down on that strategy. It may even be time for a full-on intervention.
But first, take a moment to empathize your way into his head. Certainly, much of his identity is wrapped up in his company; he may not really be ready to walk away from this phase of his life. I’m sure that he enjoys golfing with his grandson, but it’s possible that he simply can’t envision a world in which activities like that are a primary focus, rather than a pleasurable break from what he really does.
One strategy is to prod him to go cold turkey. Persuade him to spend at least a month at that retirement house, and thus definitively out of the office. Maybe he’ll see the merits of a less business-centric lifestyle.
If he balks, or if this move fails, it’s intervention time. With the board’s support — and, preferably, its involvement — you need to do two things.
First, make clear that you’ll never get the best CEO candidate to take a job that involves the owner’s peering over her shoulder all day. In the long run, that undermines the future of the company to which this founder has devoted his life. And the best thing that he can do for its future is to back off.
Second, be specific about what that means: strict limits on time in the office, specific parameters on employee interactions, a timetable for backing off the detailed updates, firm rules about a transition that will give the new CEO genuine control. You can soften all this with a vision of the very good phase of life that he now deserves to enjoy.
The starker the choice, the more likely that he will either kick the boss habit or acknowledge that this is all a charade and that he can never quit. Either way, make it clear that if he won’t commit to this plan, he’s wasting his time — and yours.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Q. I have been in my current position as a writer in a global company’s marketing department for just over three years and have assumed a leadership role. During my last two annual reviews, my boss told me that he was looking into securing a senior position for me that would entail a bigger cubicle and a raise. Most recently, he asked if I’d be willing to assume the job duties and the bigger cubicle without the official title — or the raise — because he did not yet have the budget. I declined, saying I was concerned that the official promotion would never come through.
Fast-forward a few months, and one of the other two writers in our location has been transferred out as a result of a global reorganization. The new org chart now shows an “open” position that is basically the exact senior-level job that I’ve been promised for the last two years.
I spoke to my boss about the open position — and he said I could apply for it. Am I wrong to feel slighted, or is this the way that large companies operate? — ANONYMOUS, LOS ANGELES
A. Yes, this is the way many large companies operate. But you’re not wrong to feel slighted. And one way or another, you should be proactive about the situation. At the very least, you should also consider your options elsewhere; in fact, you might want to make that your top priority.
But if you want to keep pursuing a job that’s been dangled before you for a couple of years, you need to get a better sense from your boss about his apparent shift from enthusiasm to neutrality. Possibly, he disapproved of your refusal to take on new responsibility without a better title and more money. Or maybe he just has less influence than the person who’s in charge of all that global reorganizing.
In either case, there’s no way to skirt your core issue. But you can try to address it in a way that stops short of a blunt “I’m entitled!” confrontation. Tell your boss that those past reviews gave you the impression that he thought you were ready for this job — is that correct, or have new concerns arisen? Is there any reason that he now believes you may not be ready for it?
You may not like the answer, and that’s why starting a parallel job search is a good idea. But in the long run, knowing will be better than wondering.