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Going Over Your Bosss Head Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: My immediate boss has been direct with job function is being questioned by his new boss. He has reassured me it is not a performance issue. I want to make direct contact with the new boss to convince him of my value but my immediate boss, who has always been honest and upfront with me, is discouraging me from talking to him directly... that it is premature. Should I go ahead and make contact with my boss's boss before its too late?

Greg, Toronto, Ontario
Dear Greg,

Interesting dilemma. Should you skip past your boss and go right to the source in order to state your case, or follow your boss's advice and follow protocol?

It seems that you're basically facing two general issues here. One is whether it is in fact more effective to speak directly with your boss's supervisor than to wait for the final report. The other is what effect it might have on your professional relationship with your boss if you go against his considered advice.

Let's start with the latter, since it appears on the surface to be relatively straightforward. You've stated above that your boss has always been honest and upfront with you. In other words, you trust him to be direct and your working relationship is positive. This being the case, how might he feel if, after taking the time to talk with you and mull over your possible approaches, taking into account the given set of circumstances, you simply up and ignore his best counsel?

If I were him, I'd probably feel like you'd slapped me in the face - hard, and in public. I'd be very inclined to be pretty darned ticked off at you. Here he's gone to the trouble of guiding you in a way he feels is best for all involved. Since he operates at a higher level than you do, he is likely far more aware of the politics involved in decisions being made two levels above you than you are. Second guessing him even if you do succeed in convincing your boss's supervisor to keep you on could lead to a souring of the way your boss interacts with you. Plus you've made him look like a doofus who can't control his people, and you've done this right in front of his supervisor. Better hope your boss doesn't hold a grudge (or conceal pointy objects in his drawer).

Now let's ponder how your boss's supervisor might react if you were to approach him directly. This is a busy guy we're talking about here. You come in all pumped to toot your own horn. Your goal is to impress him as someone who can be relied on to work well within a team environment. Butisn't it probable he'll learn that your visit was not approved of by your boss? I can't imagine that this would reinforce the impression of cooperation you'd like him to have of you.

Bottom line: since you trust your boss and there's no obvious reason to doubt he's trying to look out for your interests, it might make more sense to follow his advice on this one. The risk of alienating him, or of coming off as a self-absorbed mutineer in the eyes of his supervisor, is fairly significant.

What you might do in the meantime is help your boss present you in the best light possible to those who are conducting the analysis. Provide him with a list of your key achievements over the last year. Quantify your results where possible to highlight the value you add. And reinforce how much you like working for him (it may not hurt to take the boss for lunch or bring in a timely little appreciation gift of some sort).
Then sit tight, and let the process work itself out. Sure you'll be on pins and needles until the results come in. But, you can be looking around for other opportunities in the interim - just in case things don't go your way. Just don't let the bosses catch you doing it.

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