I’m the boss’s daughter

Getting direction from one manager can be difficult enough – but what if you’re getting direction from two different people, and they’re not always telling you the same thing? And then to further complicate it, what if one of those people is your dad? That’s the letter I tackled on this week’s episode of the Ask a Manager podcast — and it is fascinating and I encourage you to listen!

The show is 25 minutes long, and you can listen on  Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Here’s the letter:

I am the daughter of a small business owner, and have worked at the company for about seven years. Somehow, I’ve ended up as the sales and marketing manager despite rarely feeling like I really know what I’m doing. That being the case, I constantly ask questions.

Most of my questions are asked twice – once to my father, the owner and renowned non-manager but excellent sales person, and again to our GM (Jim, for the sake of names) who oversees me and all employees in the office while my Dad rarely visits the office. I do this because they are both highly experienced in this industry, trustworthy, and intelligent – but they have vastly different and equally important perspectives. I deeply value both of their opinions.

Recently and more frequently, I am getting conflicting answers to the same questions, as well as conflicting direction. This puts me in an awkward position on a regular basis because my dad proposes any and everything to make our services more palatable and affordable to the consumer while our GM is pulling his hair out because we’re not making enough money.

To layer onto the situation, there’s obviously a power dynamic that I haven’t quite grasped yet. My GM occasionally gets worried that my dad is thinking about firing him. (he’s not). My dad expects me to walk around like I own the place but my GM is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of me holding power, worried that I’m trying to steal his desk.

Do you have any advice on navigating this weird mixture of disagreement and power struggle?

And if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    Find another job.

    You’re not going to be able to settle this while your dad is in the picture–if you were the owner, you and Jim could work this out, and if your dad was also the GM . . . things might be weird but it would be a different set of complications. But as it is, these two are not on the same page and, frankly, it sounds like your dad is an absentee-ish owner who may not have a realistic grasp any more of how the business needs to be run. Whoever is in your position will always be kind of stuck but removing the pull of being related to the business owner would be helpful.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        So that brings up an interesting point that I think you missed in your conversation with the OP.

        GM has been there since the business started. It’s entirely possible that he assumed that he would be the one to take over some day or even that dad had implied or outright said that in the past. Now that LW is there and apparently being groomed to take over, that is a huge change for him and his intended future path. That could be the piece that LW was missing as to why GM feels threatened by her.

        1. SoCalHR*

          I feel like that kind of depends on the age of the GM in relation to the age of the dad. If they’re of similar ages, I wouldn’t assume this as much as if the GM is in the generation between the daughter and the dad

        2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          The one phrase I didn’t hear in the podcast was “succession plan”. Is the idea for the OP to take over the business? If so, when? And what training is she going to get from her father & the GM? And does everyone in the company understand that she’s going to take over?

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, this whole thread is what I was thinking about — maybe the GM isn’t wrong that the OP is going to take his job! But it won’t happen for ten years or something. Or, like you say, is the ultimate plan for the OP to take over her father’s job, and where will the GM be then? The whole thing just seems so fraught for the GM, I am sympathetic. (While not thinking the OP is doing anything wrong.)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Then LW needs to have a massive sit-down with these two and figure out what’s going on. She doesn’t say that she’s done that–it sounds like she’s asking them separately when what she needs is for them to reach consensus between themselves.

      3. JamieS*

        That’s what’s confusing to me on this. Correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like the GM is basically the guy running the show so to speak while the dad is mostly out with the clients instead of managing. This GM is worried OP is going to be taking over his role of running things and OP wants to reassure him that’s not the case. Except if she’s going to be taking over the company then it sounds like it very much is the case or at least will be.

        I challenge the notion OP can’t break the asking question twice dynamic. Yes she talks to her dad about work but that doesn’t mean she has to go to him with a question that she’s already asked Jim.

        Take out the family dynamic for a second and just look at it from a report/manager perspective. Imagine a report routinely goes to her manager, asks a question, and gets an answer then goes to the manager’s boss and asks the same question. It’d be reasonable for the manger to feel like their report doesn’t respect them as their manager. Add back in the dynamic of the report is going to one day be the boss and it’s easy to see why Jim’s worried.

        All that’s not to say she shouldn’t ever go to her dad about work. She obviously should since he’s the owner and is grooming her to take over. However, I think she should make a decision on who to go to for what instead of going to both for the same thing.

        1. Safetykats*

          Yeah, the mistake here is asking for direction from two people – only one of whom is her manager. I would liken this to asking your boss for direction, and then also asking your grandboss. You really just don’t do that. Ask your immediate supervisor. If you disagree with the direction, you can absolutely discuss that with them. What you can’t do is repeatedly go over their head – even if the grandboss is your mom or dad – unless you really want to tank the relationship with your boss. If I was the GM, just knowing that the OP was also taking every question over their head would be enough to make me look for another situation. It’s really not okay.

    1. What's with today, today?*

      This happened where I work more than a decade ago. The God-daughter was being groomed to take over because none of the children were interested, but then the son-in-law was fired from his job and they moved back. He became our sales manager and it became clear very quickly he would be the one taking over, not God-daughter, and she quit. The families haven’t spoken in years over it. But sales manager did take over, and he’s great. I don’t think I’d still be here all these years later if God daughter was our boss.

  2. MakesThings*

    This was super painful to listen to, due to the very awkward dynamic. I wanted to tell the caller to just… not do the thing.

    Going first to her manager, and then going to her dad and hearing another set of instructions really undermines the manager, and is super unprofessional.

    I would urge her to work on that dynamic, and do what Alison suggests: think about how you would behave if the owner wasn’t her dad at all.

    1. Blargh*

      Yup. You have a manager, so follow their lead. If the owner wasn’t your dad, you wouldn’t be going to him so don’t do it now. Learn your father’s opinion of the business in more casual ways, but he seems disconnected from the day to day.

      1. JSPA*

        Ask manager specific, practical questions, M-F.
        Ask dad general / philosophical / long-term questions, on the weekend.

        Understand that the tension between Dad and Jim is probably what makes the business successful. At some point, you’ll need to integrate both points of view. Or if Dad disengages entirely first, you’ll need to channel some extra Dad wisdom; if Jim leaves, you’ll need to channel some of Jim’s hard-nosed practicality.

        But that’s for the storage vault in your brain–not for now. For now, you’re the employee, learning the ropes. Dad may want you to think of yourself as an owner-to-be, but that’s all the more reason to learn the ropes without special treatment, now.

    2. Queenie*

      Not the same exact situation, but somewhat similar: In a previous job I had a new coworker who would constantly ask me questions or ask me to show him how to do things, and then he would ask the same thing to one or two of my coworkers, and sometimes he would then even ask my supervisor. We would pretty much all give the same answers since the questions were on things we were all familiar with. After I found out he was triple checking my answers, I stopped answering questions. I thought it was really disrespectful for him to be taking up so much of my time (and my coworkers’/supervisor’s time) with constant questions if he wasn’t going to trust what I said.

      I can see wanting to get different opinions in occasional special situations, but asking multiple people the same question most of the time is a horrible time-waster for the people answering.

      1. Queenie*

        Opps! Sorry–thought I was starting a new thread. I do agree that it’s undermining and unprofessional though, in addition to wasting time. :/

      2. JamieS*

        Out of curiosity was he asking you then immediately asking others before implementing what he was told or asking you, attempting to implement, and asking others again because he forgot part of what he was previously told? The first sounds disrespectful but the second sounds like a retention issue.

  3. Linzava*

    I have to say, as a fellow child of the boss, find another job. I worked for my mother for 10 years, it was all a waste of time. When I finally left, it truly was starting over, but I realized, I had no professional development from that time. I was coddled it ways nobody ever considers and because of the parent/child dynamic, I was never confident enough to belive in my skills.

    I am on my own and have finally earned the position I was born into at my mother’s company. It’s very different. I strongly encourage you to step out on our own, you fly farther than you ever thought possible.

    Looking back, even though I was an adult, working for parents feels like playing office worker.

    1. savethedramaforyourllama*

      Your comment leaves out the fact that she really enjoys her work, the company – likens it even to the enjoyment she gets from a hobby. That is rare to find (plus considering she probably will get ownership of the company at some point), that is a LOT to give up for a situation that maybe just needs more communication added in.

      1. JamieS*

        I don’t think anyone’s saying for her to entirely give up her claim to the throne. Obviously nobody can force her to do so but OP would still benefit from working outside her dad’s company for a few years even if she goes back after that.

      2. Scarlet*

        Maybe a good start would be trying to find a better position for her within the company than one for which, by her own admission, she isn’t qualified? Hiring family members always raises the suspicion of nepotism, but it’s a lot worse when said family member confesses to not knowing what she’s doing most of the time.

    2. Yvette*

      I once had this discussion with someone who owned a private school. His daughter had become a licensed teacher, and they were not quite sure if she should seek an outside position or come directly to work at the family owned school. The school employees had been there for years, and his daughter had worked there while going to school.
      He felt that working elsewhere first would give her additional experience allowing her to bring more to the table once she did come to be at his school (with the intention of some day taking over) as well as giving her a chance to mature professionally. I agreed and also pointed out that if she started there straight from school, she would be the boss’s kid, but if she came there as an established educator she would be the heir apparent and this would make a huge difference in the way she was perceived by the existing staff, most of whom had watched her grow up.

      1. AMPG*

        I took a professional networking course with a guy who had just joined his well-known regional family business. He said that any family members wanting to work for the company were required to spend a certain number of years after college working elsewhere before they were allowed on board, to build their own professional identities. I thought that was a brilliant idea.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Yes exactly! It’s very different having son/daughter come into the family business after holding 2-3 marketing positions elsewhere for 10 years versus never having worked anywhere else. The level of respect is much different in that case versus the “given” job.
        Maybe that’s not fair… but there it is.

        And I’ve been there at family owned companies with this dynamic. OP isn’t really doing herself any career favors by staying 7 years out of college even if she does a good job.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    Unfortunately, you created this situation by going to both people. Stop doing that right now.

    Your boss is the GM, and he is familiar with the details of the day to day operations. He is the one you should be going to. It sounds like your dad doesn’t have all the info needed to make complete decisions. That means he could give the wrong answer.

    It’s OK to go to your dad for general career advice. It would also be OK if there were something really bad going on, but there’s not at this time.

    But stop being the bosses daughter and start being the employee.

    1. Browser*

      Precisely. You are drawing your dad into situations that he is not part of, so no wonder the GM feels threatened. You aren’t treating the GM like your manager when you constantly go over his head.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        I totally agree. OP is undermining the GM by going to her dad with questions when instead she should be addressing them to the GM and then respecting his answer. And she is pulling special treatment when she goes around him to talk to her dad, since she admits she would not be bringing all these questions to the owner if the owner were not her dad.

    2. Seriously?*

      Yep. Dad don’t have to be cut out, but it should be presented to him as a decision that he has veto power over, not advice seeking.

  5. ENFP in Texas*

    Your dad hired the general manager to, well, MANAGE. So you ask the GM your questions and go with his direction.

    If your dad has issues with it, explain that you were following the GM’s direction.

    If your dad and the GM have different views, then it’s up to THEM to meet and get on the same page. That’s not something you need to be involved in.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      Exactly. OP mentions a few times near the beginning of the discussion that she thinks Jim might be worried she’s trying to take his job. Well, she is, in a way — very time she doesn’t accept his answer and instead gets special input on the same question from her dad. She clearly is undermining Jim. Sounds like she needs to reframe her frame of mind as an employee who reports to Jim, not as the owner’s daughter with special privileges.

  6. Bend & Snap*

    Re: rarely feeling like you know what you’re doing–you really need to think about what you want to do and how to sharpen your skills to get there. The easiest and most effective way is probably to leave. But at the least, taking some training, joining industry groups, hiring someone with some expertise would be helpful.

    You’re never going to grow if you don’t find a way to learn what you need to learn to make an impact on the business.

  7. BeenThere*

    Thank you for posting links to transcripts. I don’t always have time to listen to a podcast, so having a transcript is great for me. I am also hard of hearing, so that makes being able to read the transcript even more valuable. Thanks again.

    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I truly appreciate it too – I can’t listen to podcasts, audiobooks or talk radio without it all turning into aural mush within a few minutes (I’m starting to wonder if I have some sort of auditory processing issue). I eagerly look forward to each week’s trnascript!

      1. MM*

        Is it auditory processing or is it an attention thing? I have ADHD and I cannot focus on audio-only stimulation enough to actually pay attention to it unless I also play a game on my phone, clean, go for a walk, cook, or something else. If I try to only listen I will get antsy from the excess attention capacity rattling around in my head and open a tab “just for a second,” and then five minutes later I realize I’ve been reading something and not hearing what I’m ostensibly “listening to”; it’s just turned into sounds. (I guess this is why I always used to doodle in class, too. I need something more in order to focus.)

  8. BRR*

    I think this was sort of covered (and my apologies if I’m not remembering if this was directly addressed), but LW I think you should use your position as the owner’s daughter to push back anytime the family dynamics are overtaking the business dynamics. This doesn’t sound like the worst offense on this website from small, family run businesses, but this sounds stressful for the GM. I would let your dad know that you’re not going to walk around like you own the place and let the GM manage up as he need to.

    1. nnn*

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking while reading this letter (but I was reluctant to comment because I’m not able to listen to the podcast). Since you were basically parachuted in due to family dynamics, the best thing you can do for your credibility in the eyes of the GM and the business as a whole is push back against family dynamics whenever doing so is the right thing to do.

      And once you’ve established your credibility by doing this, you won’t lose credibility in cases where taking your father’s side is the right thing to do.

  9. DaniCalifornia*

    I think this is one of the downfalls of working with and managing family. Any other person might have recognized that the owner (dad) wasn’t always in office and would have defaulted to Jim for questions and directions. Do any of the OP coworkers (if she has peers) go to both Jim and Dad? Or just Jim?

    We have this exact situation in our office because our Office Manager hired their child. Except that the child only asks their parent questions. And they got special treatment and didn’t have to do all of the duties that the rest of admin team was expected to do. It has backfired in so many ways. Child was extremely lazy and we had to have several talks to Manager which all ended with her saying “Yeah I wish I hadn’t hired child but I won’t fire them.” (WHAT?!?) And now child bugs Manager all day long with questions/emails/phone calls and you can tell Manager gets annoyed.

    1. SoCalHR*

      I think there is a problem with the fact that the dad isn’t often in the office but gives directions on things without consulting with the GM. Even leaving the daughter-factor out of the equation, this is a recipe for disaster (I’ve seen it personally before). The GM and owner need to have clear delineations of what the GM can do without input from the owner because the owner is absent.

  10. just curious*

    Is it just me or does the link for the transcript take you to a different episode of the podcast? I see the transcript for the episode about dealing with an intern.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      Yup, the transcripts are posted a week after the podcasts (it notes that next to the link). :-)

    2. The sound of silence*

      Unfortunately, the transcripts are always a week behind, so those of us who are D/deaf, hearing impaired, or who rely on transcripts for other reasons are always left out of the conversation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I”m sorry that’s the case, but this is the best I’m able to do right now and there is a ton of other (free!) content on this site. For what it’s worth, the majority of podcasts don’t offer transcripts at all; I’m trying to do what I can.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Alison, I think you’re doing fine. You’re right that most podcasts don’t offer any kind of transcript, because that takes more labor, and we’re getting the podcast for free, right? (The best most podcasts do is offer ad-free versions for a paid subscription.) And I’ll bet you’re doing the transcription yourself? I’ve done that work: it’s *work*.

          I think it is JUST FINE if the comment thread for some of your posts is under 100. It makes a nice change to feel like I can eat, er, read the whole thing for a change, because I mostly don’t have time to drill down into all the threads, regardless of the fact that people are mostly saying fun or useful things in there.

          Me, I’m just glad I’m here reading. For at least a year now, I have enjoyed your answers and I almost always learn a completely new-to-me thing in the question, the answer, or the comments, and that tickles me no end. I love learning new things. (FWIW, I got here because you comment sometimes in Evil HR Lady’s blog.)

          Unrelated note: I hope you are aware of this very important broadcast service: Breaking Cat News, linked in username. I somehow have you and that artist all conflated in my head and am certain you’re neighbors or something, and that her cats help your writing process. I really really hope you’re not allergic to cats, if that is true. ;-)

      2. xkd*

        Well, no we’re not! You can still go back and comment. :-) I don’t do so often, but I generally don’t comment much anyway. (I hate multiple comments that all generally say the same thing.) I like reading the day of comments because it’s like a movie preview, and I love previews! Thanks again Alison!

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        But the big PLUS is that transcripts are searchable, so people searching the site (or the web) might find information in the transcript that isn’t elsewhere.

  11. Milla*

    The thing with advice is that you don’t really have to follow it. They may be experts in their fields, but you’re the expert of your specific job, and unless they turn it into a command, you are allowed to consider and then discard what they say.
    If you’re in Sales and Marketing, both of their opinions are valuable. Can you figure out a way to consider both and come up with your own third option? “Dad’s circus idea is great, but Jim says we don’t have the time or money, so I decided bouncy castles are the way to go.”
    Your dad would be able to propose effective sales tactics and customer approaches. The GM likely doesn’t interact with customers, but knows what’s doable and what isn’t.
    Use dad to inspire or critique your own idea, rather than simply implementing his, then make sure it makes sense budget and time wise with the GM.
    If you and your father plan on you taking this company over one day, the GM needs to become comfortable with that and get on board preparing you. Why is he so uncomfortable with you holding power? Is it because of something on your end (like, he doesn’t think you’re ready/able yet, thinks you’ll be irresponsible, or views the lack of independence as a negative, etc.?) or is it because of him (he wants to be the one with power, is worried about job security, thinks you’re already in a power struggle for dominance, doesn’t want to work for you, etc.)? Figure that out.

  12. Still trying to adult*

    Kudos to the LW for recognizing the side of family in business that is not always good!!

    Having been an employee in a few family-owned and run businesses, there is always ALWAYS this tension between those who are family & those who are not.

    And my feelings have boiled down to this short statement:

    Whenever decisions are made in a family business based on family relationships then that is no longer a business. It is a family with servants, who incidentally make money for the family.

    And Linzava (above) has also recongized the perils, in not developing professionally. I have seen very few family members of a business who have truly professional level people skills. They can always rat to Mom & Dad that the help are not being helpful and need to be sacked.

    Experienced? Yes. Bitter? Yes. With good reason.

    LW does have a big job cut out, to really separate her relationship from her business interests.

  13. MissDisplaced*

    Is your name Ivanka?
    Seriously though, I don’t feel this will end well. At least you can see the POV of the GM, who probably has some real and valid concerns here.
    I’m not saying you don’t work hard or do your best to be objective, but this is really putting you in an awkward situation.

  14. Stained Glass Cannon*

    LW, while it’s a good thing to ask questions and get clarity, what you are doing now is, as you have noticed, putting everyone in a very awkward position. You, your father, your GM, your co-workers. You need to stop taking your questions up the line to your father, or at least be very careful about when and what you ask and how you later communicate his answers to your co-workers.

    I have a non-family employee’s perspective on this situation which may help to further illustrate why your double-asking is inappropriate. One of my early jobs was a small family business. The owner one day decided to bring in her daughter, an undergraduate at the time, and make the daughter critique employees’ work in one-on-one sessions. She did not loop the GM in, which meant that the staff were getting one set of feedback from the GM and another set from the daughter. It being a small office, everyone knew what was going on, and the atmosphere was absolutely terrible.

    While what I’ve described is not entirely similar to your situation, the results are the same. You’re essentially undermining your GM and deepening what sounds like an existing gap between the business approach of GM and owner. This is not a matter of disagreement and power struggle between them, but a matter of your ability to separate your standing as the owner’s daughter from your standing as an employee of the business. I can tell you with pretty high certainty that your co-workers know about the double-asking, and they’re not likely to see it in a good light. Take Alison’s advice, and try to conduct yourself as though you didn’t have that family access.

  15. Hannah B*

    I am going to go against popular opinion and write, enjoy the perk! I never had an advantage like this and I don’t find the road to success is sweeter because I had to work every step of the way to a high-level managerial role. I would have preferred an advantage such as this (that is, having a personal affiliation with the owner or a high-level manager). When you are on the other side it really is a road paved with boulders and completely exhausting.

  16. Scarlet*

    “Somehow, I’ve ended up as the sales and marketing manager despite rarely feeling like I really know what I’m doing.”

    I think that’s probably the heart of the problem here. That sounds very uncomfortable.

  17. PersonalJeebus*

    I have a suggestion I didn’t hear from Alison, and forgive me if another commenter already made it, I’m crunched for time!

    Because the LW intends to stay long-term, I think she and her dad should be working towards getting them both to a place where she can report directly and exclusively to him–not the GM. I realize in non-family-run businesses, the reporting structure is supposed to be determined (as it should be) only by the merits of the people in it and not by their relationships outside the workplace. But this isn’t that kind of business, and they can’t pretend it is. The GM is already worried about the possibility of nepotism, so why not let nepotism play out–but in a way that *doesn’t* threaten the GM?

    If the LW reports straight to her dad, she’ll no longer be under the GM with the unspoken potential to rise into his role. There’ll be no more competition, imaginary or otherwise, for the GM’s job. Instead, with both of them reporting to the dad, she’ll be more like a peer, yet the GM’s wealth of experience won’t be erased. He can still function as a mentor to her. They can still spitball ideas and problem solve together, and she always has the option to rely on his judgment if she’s unsure, but he won’t also have the awkward responsibility of managing her.

    In the short term, I agree with the suggestion to have a frank talk with the GM.

    One last thing for the LW to bear in mind and possibly vocalize with the GM: If he were to quit or get hit by a bus tomorrow, she wouldn’t automatically take over his job just because she’s the owner’s daughter–right? There would be a search for a new GM. That will probably still be true 5 or even 10 years from now–the LW is not necessarily angling for that specific job someday; she has her own distinct trajectory in the company. The current GM has 20 years experience to her 7. He will likely retire before the LW reaches the point where she feels able to step into his shoes, even assuming she wants to do that.

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      After a quick skim, I’m getting that my suggestion is the polar opposite of what most people are advising. That’s intentional, I stand by my opinion! I’ve seen a lot of family businesses from the outside, and based on that, I don’t think the people in this situation can make it what it’s not. This IS a family business. (Also, it’s a small business.) I think they should all own that fact and play to its advantages instead of acting as if things are otherwise.

      In every family business I’ve seen, family members report to each other. That’s not always ideal, and it can cause problems of its own, but at least the non-family employees of the company never have to worry about being in charge of someone who’s related to the owner. People stand a better chance of thriving when the boundaries are clear.

Comments are closed.