Boss Encourages Violating Chain of Command

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about mixed chain of command:

My boss is a manager and I am one grade lower (an associate manager.) I joined this group two months ago. From the very first day I was told that I was in charge of the two recruiters who report to me “up the chain” in HR. Unfortunately, these two junior employees are still reporting to my boss. For example, yesterday my boss told me to start handling my team more aggressively. But, today he sent an email to me and a peer associate manager to work on a staffing situation. When I wrote to one of my team members and gave her instructions I found out my boss had copied the junior team members on the email. One of them argued with me about what I had directed and said we should get permission from my boss about it. Finally, after some conversation she agreed to do what I requested, but I could tell she didn’t agree.What can I do to get my boss to remember to use the hierarchy, to avoid this kind of situation?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

It’s common for this kind of situation to develop, especially when the associate manager is new, as you are. Employees not only trust the higher level more than they might trust the associate manager, they also probably enjoy feeling a bit like they are peers of yours rather than subordinate to you. Human nature!

Consider two actions to improve things. First, establish yourself so well with junior employees that they link with you as much as they do with the higher level. The second action is to discuss the situation with your boss from the viewpoint of asking for assistance in working more effectively with your two team members.

I often mention the concept of how to gain influence. You must be credible, you must be valuable and you must communicate effectively. With only two months at your workplace, you won’t have had enough time to establish credibility. You also are probably not valuable to your team members in the same way that your boss is. Both of those take time, but you can speed it up by ensuring that you focus on those aspects of your working relationships.A way to establish credibility is for subordinates to see that you and the boss get along well.

Build your working relationship with your boss by discussing your concerns about your leadership of the team.The approach of having him give you some advice about how to be more aggressive without being excessive, will go over better than correcting his behavior. Time will take care of much of this situation. If things don’t improve in a few more weeks you will probably need to express your concerns to your boss. Even then, don’t complain to your boss about his behavior–that will only cause upset on his part.You’ll always be better off if you take the approach of wanting to be more effective and asking for assistance with specific situations. “Every time I ask Mona to do something in a new way she says I have to ask you. It’s really frustrating! How do you think I should handle that?” Over time you will gain credibility and influence–and your boss will feel that you know enough about the job for him to let go of the direct reins.Best wishes to you with this challenging situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.