Trying to do your job but getting blocked by the owner who hired you to do so can be a royal pain when you’re in business.

Working at a large/public corporation or at an individually-owned operation often present distinct disadvantages. Red tape and pigeon-holed responsibilities are the banes of the larger companies. While smaller, one-person owned companies – while offering a fast track to promotion and increased responsibilities – may involve you working under a business dictatorship.

Recently, a friend and I were having lunch to catch up. Like me, she began her career with Fortune 100 companies, then got wooed away by a small company a few years ago whose founder/owner was impressed by her big-name experience. She’s done some job hopping to move up the corporate ladder since then.

Three months ago, she was excited about the prospects of making strides. Today, she put in her notice. She just couldn’t figure out where and why it all went so wrong so quickly. And this seemed to be happening, again and again, job after job.

“Sounds like you’re working for the king,” I said. Her eyes widened. Bullseye.

You can’t help but notice comparisons to those on the world stage, but really the story is a common one. Most companies were the brainchild or pet project of an individual, but those individuals grew with their company and learned how to delegate and trust the employees they put in charge. Not all self-built companies are run by tyrannical micromanaging megalomaniacs – but some are.

I’ve worked intense 14-hour days that flew by because my efforts and results were praised by the owner who appreciated the work that went into it and rewarded the positive results it created. Those owners who loved going home to their families liked to buy lunch for the team, gave half-day Fridays well, just because. And I’ve been second-guessed and berated by owners who were so unhappy, indecisive, and unappreciative that hours went by like weeks, and fear, not diligence got deadlines met.

Good news is there are some telltale signs that can help you avoid working for a monarchy.

  1. Take note of the type of questions you are asked during the interview process. In general, were they about your capabilities, experience, and management style, or were they more about loyalty, reverence, and the need for hard work? Did they want to learn about you, or learn what you knew about them?
  2. When it’s your turn, ask about your predecessor? How long were they in the position? Did they step down to accept another position, or did they “just not get it”? Do the other employees that sit in on the interviews talk about how great it is to work there or the challenges, mood changes, and late hours to expect? Do they look happy?
  3. Read reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt from disgruntled employees, but take notice if their complaints are about corporate culture and working conditions. Do the same for those over-the-top rave reviews as well.

Trying to Make it Work

Let’s face it. Often if you’re already working for that business dictatorship, resigning isn’t always an option nor should it it be your only one. Some entrepreneurs just don’t get civility in business. They’re often so much in their own head they can’t see any other viewpoint. I remember explaining to one owner who was livid that his employees were ignoring basic business protocol, that he had never, in fact, stated what that protocol was. It turned out to be as simple as a dress code when clients were on site.

I’m not excusing, but those “monarchs” might be just as clueless as to why they keep losing top talent and it but it may be up to you to help them to “see the light.”Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to these situations. Explain how you’ll need his or her support (read trust) to do your job most effectively.