Monthly Archives: February 2008

I have just started in a newly created role to drum up clients for a mid-sized corporate consultancy. My line manager is a 50-something male who has been in his job for decades and whose highlight of the day is a hot lunch in the office canteen. Having tried time and again to enthuse him about commercial possibilities, he simply scoffs and sends me off on wild goose chases. I now realise he has been secretly siphoning off the leads and passing them off as his own. Is there a way to remedy this infantile behaviour or should I declare him a lost cause and start feeding him red herrings?
Discontented, 40-something female

It is half term and I have sent my 10-year-old son off on his own to an adventure camp. The centre called last night to say he is really homesick, and I have spoken to them again this morning and he is still miserable. I would like to get into the car now and pick him up but if I go today it will mean being out of the office, and missing my annual appraisal with my boss – and she is famously disapproving of women who let their children interfere with their work. Should I let my unhappy son wait another day? Or should I go and get him now? In which case, do I tell my boss the truth – that my son isn’t even ill, just homesick – or do I pretend to be ill myself?
Manager, female 39        

I have been working at a financial institution in New York City for two years, and have a problem: I’m not given any work to do. I find myself asking my boss for work or offering my help in projects team members are working on. Even now, with quarterly reports, everyone in my group except me is submerged in work. At first I liked being slack, but now it is affecting my career and making me emotionally stressed. In a recent restructuring others were fired but I wasn’t. I don’t understand why this is happening and what I should do. Why would a superior do something like this to his or her subordinates if they are not going to fire them?
Analyst, male, 26

A new recruit recently joined my team – an MBA graduate fresh out of London Business School. To the annoyance of all other team members, he is living up to the MBA acronym, Mighty Big Attitude. I am all for supporting up-and-coming leaders, but not to the detriment of others. He assumes he is on a fast track to senior management, name-drops his MBA theories, and is reluctant to do tasks he considers beneath him. How should I approach him about his manner in the work environment? I have no doubt he is a skilled worker but his cocksure demeanour and lack of team awareness must surely be addressed?
Manager, male, 51

Lucy’s Answer

There are few sights quite as ugly to someone with your length of experience as a jargon-talking young whippersnapper who thinks he is destined for the top.

Alas, one of the reasons the sight is so horrible is that the whippersnapper is likely to be right – I fear this one may advance far faster and further than you ever have. He talks the language, he has the ambition and people like him have a sickening way of doing really well.

I am assuming that you didn’t hire him yourself? If you did you are very silly: obnoxiousness is one of the few things that show up clearly at interview. It sounds as if you had him thrust upon you by someone senior, who saw promise, rather than a cocksure idiot jabbering about strategic initiatives.

In this case there is no point in wasting your time trying to coach him. He isn’t going to listen to you, as you are on the wrong side of the culture gap. You think he is pushy; I bet he thinks you are a has-been and a failure.

As his line manager it is simply your job to ensure that he does what he is supposed to do, whether he thinks it beneath him or not. If he refuses you have every right to come down on him very hard.

Either way I don’t think this situation will last long. Probably he will get promoted on to someone else’s team and you won’t have to think about him any more.

If he doesn’t, there is a good chance he’ll quit. It is encouraging that everyone else on your team dislikes him. Unless he is really thick-skinned, he may find that being ostracised in a job that he thinks is below him is not really a compelling value proposition. 

With any luck he will take his awful jargon to a management consultancy, where both his words and his attitude would fit in nicely.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.