I want to talk about a common, and sadly mistaken, business expression…going over someone’s head.

More specifically going over your boss’s head. Or for leaders, an employee going over your head.

There’s no such thing as “going over someone’s head”. If one of your employees oversteps you in the chain of command to get help, and doesn’t talk to you about it first, it’s not their fault, IT’S YOURS. The reason being, a person’s development is their own responsibility, and no one else’s. They are in charge of their own career path. So, if their leader isn’t providing the things they need to accomplish their goals, then they need to take control of that.

Here are the 4 possible reasons that someone goes over their boss’s head:

1. They’re not learning b/c they’re not being taught
-If they aren’t making progress because no one is teaching them, they need to let someone know. That someone…you guessed it!
2. They’re being treated unfairly
-No one should be mistreated, no matter what. There is no gray here. If a person is being mistreated, they need to get their supervisors boss involved.
3. They’re leader sets a bad example
-If a person’s boss breaks policy, or acts unethical then they have every right to go the leader above them.
4. They were a bad hire
-If you hire an unstable person that runs to your boss for something that never happened, then they did the wrong thing in going over you, but you goofed up by hiring them in the first place.

If you notice, the blame falls on the leader in all 4 reasons.

When a person feels that their concerns are not being properly handled, or their training and coaching aren’t adequate for them to reach their full potential, it’s their responsibility to themselves to make sure the problem gets fixed. If this means talking to the boss’s boss, then so be it, but to think that they are at fault for seeking council from someone that will help them is an ignorant way of thinking. Yes, there is a chain of command, but if there is a weak connection in 2 links of the chain, then isn’t it the responsibility of the other members of the chain to repair that connection, for the good of the group?

When the leader isn’t listening, the follower begins to look for someone who will.

When the leader has stopped listening, they’re in danger of severing the connection with the follower. Without that connection, they’re no longer a leader. They’re now just a boss…someone that others report to because of company alignment. When the leader isn’t listening, the follower begins to look for someone who will. The more talented the employee, the more options they have. other people will listen toOptions mean there is MANY other leaders out there that will be more than willing to listen.

If you ever have an employee of your that “goes over your head”, look inward, not at them. Instead of placing blame (easy to do), reflect on what caused the actions of your employee, and then take the blame. OWN IT, and then look to repair the connection with them. IT starts with an apology, and continues by asking a question, then listening. REALLY listening.



6 thoughts on “There is No Such Thing as Going Over Your Boss’s Head

    1. Depends on who you ask, but yes technically speaking I’m a millennial by about 1 year. I’m right on the cusp of millennial and gen-x. I was born in 1985. What part don’t you agree with? Just the whole notion that there is no such thing as going over your bosses head?

  1. I agree with it, and I’m an Xer (born 1976). Accountability is not just for rank and file grunts, and it is not just millennials who see that.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, the year you we’re born and the random name that gets assigned to that generation has nothing to do with the fact that your personal (and professional) development is your own responsibility. If you want to learn, you have to make sure your voice is heard! That can mean, as you said, holding your own supervisor accountable by speaking with her supervisor.

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