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What should you do when the boss says no? You’ve probably been there. You have a great idea, it’s the best thing since sliced bread but your boss isn’t on board. Should you go over your boss’s head? When, if ever, is it OK to jump ranks and take your idea higher up the food chain?
When it’s a matter of the boss saying no to your idea Julie Jansen, coach, speaker, consultant and author of You Want Me to Work With Who?, suggests trying again by negotiating part of your idea. If the boss still says no make sure you find out why he or she is not convinced. And continue to share your proposals.
“I would try two more times with presenting other ideas to your boss and then go over his or her head but tell him or her that you are planning on doing this,” says Jansen. “Unfortunately most people won’t have the courage to tell their boss that they plan on usurping their boss’s authority.”
Under most circumstances, others agree that trying to override the boss is not the best policy. “We should not automatically go around our boss because we do not like how they conduct a meeting or they do not like our ideas,” says Carole Stovall, PhD, coach and principal of SLS Global. She adds that going over the boss’s head is “always a big challenge and a big risk.”
Alexandra Levit, author of They Don’t Teach Corporate In College, cautions that going over your supervisor’s head can backfire in ways you don’t expect. “You are very likely to alienate your boss, and it’s simply too risky,” she says. “In most situations, I would not go over the boss’s head unless you are prepared to walk out the door – or be walked out.”
Others concur. Kathie Elster, coauthor of Working with You Is Killing Me and Mean Girls at Work, warns that if you go over your boss’s head you should be “prepared to get fired.” Instead of going over your boss Elster suggests trying to go around your manager by “Working with others at your boss’s level so that they have an experience of working with you and getting known by your boss’s boss and others in positions of authority.”
Another way to circumvent your boss, while not technically going over his or her head, is when you are at a meeting or in a social situation. “If you’re asked in a meeting or at a social function (for example, at Morgan Stanley, the CEO had a program called “Breakfast with the CEO”) about new ideas, then it is okay to bring your idea up,” says Michael Provitera, author of Mastering Self-Motivation. “You can always tell your current boss that you were asked the question and that you did not go over the boss’s head.”
Still, if you do decide to go over or around your boss, technically or otherwise, make sure you proceed with caution.
The general consensus among professionals is that the only time you should go over your boss’s head is when the situation is dire and/or involves something unethical, illegal, immoral or harassing. In that case, you might want to start with HR. “If the boss is doing things that are maybe on the line between ethical and not (for example sexual harassment, bullying behavior, etc.) then employees can often go to HR for advice and information,” says Stovall. She notes that usually HR keeps such information confidential.
Jansen agrees. But she adds that “Even if the boss does something abusive, illegal, disrespectful, or harassing you should still find the courage to sit them down and explain that it is one of these things and that you have a zero level tolerance for that behavior and that you feel obligated to tell his or her boss and/or HR.” However, she also cautions to do this only if the behavior is a pattern not a one off situation.
While it may be tempting to go over your boss’s head when things aren’t going your way – your idea is squashed or you’re passed over for promotion – remember that it’s a risk. Professionals caution that before you talk to your boss’s boss make sure that you are ready to walk away, today.