my organization won’t follow the chain of command

A reader writes:

My organization seems to make a habit of not following the chain of command. Even in our small division of 10 people, I routinely find myself in situations where the division head gives orders directly to me (bypassing my manager, who is his direct report), or makes decisions that he doesn’t actively support afterwards (e.g., makes a decision and puts me in charge of implementing it, but doesn’t become actively involved when his own direct reports – who outrank me and who are affected by his decision – are dissatisfied with it and start challenging it). As a result, I find myself fighting to support decisions that our big boss made (sometimes without even telling his own direct reports about it), that my boss doesn’t have any knowledge of (except through me, as I usually do my best to keep him in the loop), and that our big boss’s direct reports are completely unhappy with. However, because the big boss didn’t make it clear to anyone that this is his stance on the matter, I lack the credibility to enforce and implement his decisions.

When I go to my boss about it, I get told that a) our big boss is too busy and too overwhelmed with work to be dealing with this and b) that this is all very political anyway. And I don’t want to go over my boss’s head to complain to the big boss about these issues when my boss told me to suck it up.

Am I thinking too rigidly when I expect a clear chain of command to be followed? E.g., Big Boss has a Big Idea, Big Boss talks to My Boss, My Boss talks to me, I execute and deliver within my authority, and where enforcement or selling is needed, delegate upwards to My Boss. Alternatively, Big Boss has a Big Idea, Big Boss talks to me, Big Boss backs me up with his own direct reports (who outrank me completely). I should note that I am under 30 and that this is my first real work experience in a big organization.

You can read my answer to this question over at the Intuit QuickBase blog today, and three other careers experts are answering this question there today too.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. Steve G*

    I am wondering what the scope of the decisions are that the OP is defending and hope they elaborate. My boss’ boss randomly called me the other day to explain laws to him when he always goes to my boss. I was so busy I completely forgot about it after hanging up, until I saw this post. I am hoping for his/her own sake, that the OP isn’t over-analyzing these things and getting stressed where it isn’t warranted.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more assertive because I realized that alot of people question my or my boss’ decisions were basically just doing it to talk to talk. If they really cared, they would have been there to chip in when the actual work was being done.

  2. Anonymous*

    Maybe I am biased Alison, but truly, yours was the most understanding and ‘ reflective of real life’ answer.
    “Run with it” is excellent advice but that doest help deal with a situation where senior team members are feeling bypassed & there is lack of back up from bosses!!!
    Really good to have you & your grounded advice around :)

    1. JamieG*

      I agree (and maybe I’m just biased as well), but it seems like the other respondents mostly ignored the fact that OP is actually being put in a difficult situation, trying to do what Big Boss wants without backup when her other boss(es) disagree.

  3. help*

    Is any of this illegal if you are asked to bypass your next link up in the chain of command on pains of losing your job? The threats made are “don’t tell ANYONE about this conversation especially the director and I WILL find out if you did even by the way people are acting!” I mean is this illegal? Borderline blackmail? What can you do in this situation?

  4. Nellie*

    Any way to revive this content/link? It’s no longer working (makes sense as it’s over 2 years old), but I could really use seeing the answers since I’m dealing with almost this exact situation!

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