Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

When people go over their leader’s head

If you lead people who lead other people then eventually you will be faced with the situation where someone goes over their boss’s head and comes directly to you.

Imagine you are the General Manager of a restaurant and one of the cooks is questioning the special the chef has decided on for the evening service. She has come directly to you with her concern that the ingredient cost is too high and the restaurant will lose money on the special.

What do you say to the cook?

1. Thanks for bringing this up, I will look into it and get back to you.
2. I think you are right, please ask the chef to come up with another idea.
3. Get out of my office and do what you were told!
4. This is the chef’s call, talk to the chef about this.
5. Let’s get the chef in here so the three of us can talk about it.

The correct answer is 4. Essentially: “Talk to your boss”.

Support the Chef, even if you don't agree. Photo by Robert Dozier. Click for link
Support the chef, even if you don’t agree. Photo by Robert Dozier. Click for link

Even if the cook says she has already tried to talk to the chef and he won’t listen, the correct answer is still: “Talk to the chef.”

Why is this?

One of the most common reasons that people don’t comply with their boss’s authority is that they don’t believe or perceive that authority. If we allow the cook to go around the chef, we are undermining the chef’s authority and taking away the chef’s ability to be an effective leader.

Even if we agree with the cook about the cost, we still must support the chef and, if appropriate, have a talk with the chef about the issue privately.

If we want to have an effective growing and improving organization, we must focus on improving the decision making and leadership skills of our team, not on working directly with their team members.  It is okay to help out in the restaurant, communicate with the whole team, and give staff general advice, but we need to let the specific direction for each staff member come from their leader, not us.

Special note: If the chef does something illegal, immoral, unethical or dangerous then we should welcome the direct input from the cook and take appropriate action.  If someone shows the courage to come to us about something like this we need to respect and protect them.  Losing a few bucks on a special is not one of these cases.