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.



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

  1. Well I certainly don’t agree with that. Any chance you’re a millennial?

    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?

  2. 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.

    1. Thank you. I know you insulted me, but it was after reading my writing and I’m very thankful for your readership regardless of your opinion. Thanks again!

    1. Are you doing ok? You read an entire blog post of mine and then left a nasty comment about it to a complete stranger. That takes some hateful motivations, did something trigger this from you?

  3. Yea… this is the dumbest post i have ever read.
    Speaking from a ton of management this incorrect on every level.

    1. Thank you for you opinion! And thank you for reading!
      What’s your opinion on it?

  4. Sorry, i don’t want to be rude, but you are completely wrong and I am amazed that you have been in any kind of management role. Your attitude seems that of a disgruntled ex-employee with a chip on their shoulder.

    Going over my head = guaranteed termination.

    To address your 4 points.

    1. This is something that should be discussed with your immediate boss. It is at your supervisors discretion what you are meant to learn and what your role is. It is an entitled millenial notion to think that you have some right to growth within the company based on your personal feelings. You were hired to do a job, do it. If you are good at it, and theres a chance for growth, you will be told about it if you havent asked already.

    2. Ok. This is true in any circumstance. If you are being bullied, harassesed or being mistreated. Speaking to your immediate supervisor is the first step to resolve the situation, and the only acceptable time to take it any further is if your direct supervisor cannot resolve the situation in a timely manner.

    3. Again, this is true. If there is an issue of ethics or legality about your supervisors actions, then it would be beneficial to the company to go over your supervisors head.
    Now this is for serious ethical issues such as fraud, embezzlement, harassment. Your simple of an operational or managerial strategy or implementation is not relevent, and quite frankly none of your business.

    4. The absolute dumbest thing to say.
    Anyone can nail an interview and provdide a decent reference. You never truly know the person you hire until weeks or months later when their true colors can be seen.

    1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! Means the world to me you have no idea 😁

      My first and BY FAR most important thing I feel that I NEED to say is that you use the term “millennial” in a very prejudiced way, and I hope you can receive this feedback in the constructive way that it was intended. You offend all people from ages 24 to 36 when you use the therm millennial in a derogatory sense. We didn’t raise ourselves.

      The 2nd piece of feedback is that “going over your head = guaranteed termination” is an awfully oppressive way to lead.

      The 3rd thing is that this post is entirely about accountability, a topic that I hold near and dear, and quite possibly over do at times, but if you fire people for speaking to your boss about you when their needs aren’t met, then you’re holding the wrong person accountable. As the leader it’s your fault. Always. As a matter fact true happiness comes when you KNOW that everything is your fault. I’m 100% accountable to everything that happens in both the businesses that I own, in the family that I’m the leader of, in the community that I lead, and in every single thing that I surround myself in. It’s all my fault, and I LOVE it that way because I have broad shoulders, I can carry that burden, and then since it’s my fault I can go fix it. Even when it rains, it’s my fault.

      Before I left my corporate job to start my own companies, I over saw over 500 people in one of the largest districts in the company, and I let every single person know that they could call my boss or HR at any time, for any reason, no matter what because no one has ever “gone over my head” before. In the few times that that someone did call my supervisor, it was because I was doing a poor job leading.

      To say this differently, I learned the hard way that there’s no such thing as going over you bosses head.

      So now for devils advocate on #1…what if you have discussed it with her, NUMEROUS times and nothing happens?

      #2 you seem to agree with me so, cool!

      # 3 you agree again, so seems like we’re way more on the same page than you let on here.

      #4 I also learned this the hard way when I hired someone that wasn’t fit for the role I put them in. They cried wolf to my supervisor numerous times, and that is my fault for putting them in over their head.

      Thank you again for the amazing comment and for reading my writing, hope to hear from you again!


      1. We can agree on point #2 and #3 certainly.

        I did use the term millenial in a derogatory way and I should not have as there are many people in that age range with a great work ethic and non-entitled attitude.

        I am actually on the cusp year of being considered a millenial, which i find bizarre because I was deemed a generation X-er up until the term millenial was created and someone decided to change the date range.

        I do believe there is a different mentality for people on the younger side of the the millenial spectrum, but I will forego offering my opinion on it and stick with the original topic.

        I will reiterate my statement that “going over my head = guaranteed termination” but let me clarify.

        This does not apply to point #2 and #3.
        If there is a legitimate concern such as harassament, bullying, or any other innapropriate action… and I have not addressed it with immediate satisfactory action, then you are absolutely at no fault for going over my head, as I have failed to provide you with a safe and comfortable work environment.

        Now this is where “going over my head = guaranteed termination” come in to play.

        An employee does not like a policy that I implement whether its no texting, a mandated lunch time, a particular workflow that they dont agree with, a reprimand or counseling that they feel is unfair. Although it is absolutely no business of theirs, and no obligation of mine to explain myself or decision to a subordinate, i am often willing to state my intentions or reasoning when asked.

        Now beyond this, if an employee goes to my boss because they personally do not agree with a policy I implement, an operarional aspect, Etc. Etc…this is where you are guaranteed to soon not have a job because this is direct insubordination and a challenge to my authority which i will under no circumstances tolerate. I simply do not have the time, patience or room on my team for someone like this.

        It is my first priority to support the operations and prosperity of the company, and not cater to an employees personal opinions or beliefs about how the company should be run.

        You speak alot about peoples “needs” being met.

        Beyond the need to work in a safe, non-threatening, non-discriminatory environment and being treated with respect and dignity, the rest of your personal needs are completely irrelevant to me and the company.

        Im not trying to sound like a jerk, but business is business and you are here to provide your best effort at the task you were assigned in exchange for a paycheck.
        Im not here to help you build your vision board or plan your future, im here to run a business and you are here to assist ME with that.

        As to #1 again, you are correct only if this is concerning safety, discrimination, bullying, etc. If it is an employee repeatedly asking for growth opportunity, a raise. Or asking to change a policy… then for god sakes, no means no and that was final the first time I said it.

        I believe we are fundamentally different in that you take pride and ownership in helping people achieve their personal goals in the workplace. This is nice, but I do not share the same perspective or sentiment.

        I am there purely to operate the company as efficiently and effectively as possible. People are expendable and easily replaceable if they do not fit the culture or fall in line.

      2. I too am on the cusp but I fucking LOVE millennials. All of them. They are blamed for being entitled and/or lazy, but they were raised that way by the same generations that wants to be prejudiced against them. They didn’t create their circumstances their parents did! They are blamed because of the ego of boomers and gen-x instead of holding themselves accountable to grow, and then millennials end up as the “middle child”. It’s horse shit and I know because of the incredible results millennials around me have put up are breathtaking. Also, I’m a millennial by only 1 year, but I’m purebred millennial at heart, and NO ONE outworks me!

        Yes, I am a people person and so relationships always come before things, rules, policy etc. you and I are polar opposite in that regard, and I love that it’s that way!! I’m gray and vague, and that’s in my DNA. Black and white drives me nuts. But your view of black and white helps me see the line and aids me in being firmer in areas where I can be too soft, so thank you for your views and opinions!

        Look, a strength of mine, that has became a weakness many many times is the fact that I’ll break policy to help a teammate of mine 100% of the time (of course as long as it’s something REAL and not something small like a concert or something). But again, that’s what made me a strong leader as an employee, because I’d stick up for my team no matter what. It’s also why I used to joke that I was a bad employee and ultimately the reason that I left a high position at a young age to start my own companies. I break too many rules for most companies to handle. I’m a handful, but my following below me is incredibly loyal, and many cried when I left because of that.

        Relationships are always going to trump all else in my life.

  5. I feel I have no choice but to respond to the horrendous slave driver sentiments of previous commenters. It is neither efficient nor effective to treat humans like cattle. The quickest way to ensure that an employee only puts in minimal effort and has one foot out the door is to manage like a dictator. Treating adults like misbehaving children for texting or being human enough to arrive late occasionally is a reflection of your haughty, authoritarian nature and lofty opinion of yourself.

    Employees are replaceable but at a very high cost. If you don’t support the career goals of your subordinates, they will leave for a company that will and you’ll end up with a workforce that’s inexperienced and without much knowledge of the inner workings of your company. Nobody wants to work a job where they have no say in anything. That’s voluntary servitude. If I were in a superior position over a manager espousing the attitudes of the commenter above, I would fire them and feel great about it.

    Now that I got that out of the way I can get to the real stuff. I came across this gem while searching for a solution to my own problem in the workplace, which is thankfully not as bad as my previous description of bad management. I’ve been shifted around to various teams and projects since I was hired a year ago so I don’t have much stability. I could be resilient enough to handle that if I had the support of a good supervisor and mentor but alas, I don’t really have that either. Most of my workplace communication consists of status updates. I’ve had discussions with the manager who hired me and also with my new supervisor but feel that I’m not heard or my concerns are dismissed as my own personal issue rather than a managerial one. I’m given tips on how to cope rather than solutions to the real problem.

    My concerns not only surround mental health but also career progression because my productivity and focus are being challenged each time I’m basically asked to start over every few weeks or months. I’ll have to work with new people who use different systems of communication and project management, new environment, and entirely different work that I don’t have previous experience with. My performance evaluation was understandably mediocre because I have not had any opportunity to shine while constantly struggling to adapt and keep my head above water. My only options at this point are to continue my attempt at learning to work in this bad system, speak to higher management, or find a new job.

    1. Thank you so much for your support! I’ve always said that you should find strong leadership, not high pay, or great benefits. Leadership will add more value to you than any paycheck ever could!

  6. There are a lot of “managers” on here who have very little concern for their internal customers, and care an awful lot about their own agenda/image; classic narcissism. The ultimate purpose of a leader is to make everyone around them better than themselves. If you work hard, do the right thing, and tell the truth, you should never have to worry about your story later on. If a person that you’re responsible for “goes over your head” and you are truly a good leader, there isn’t a thing in the world that should concern you. There is a reason that we in leadership ate last is the Army; our soldiers come first. It is worth noting just how many toxic managers are on here, and odd how many people with this character flaw gravitate toward management positions. I would bet my retirement that these same individuals would take a sizeable pay cut if only to keep their job title.

    1. While I don’t share your cyclical viewpoint, I do agree that there are 99% more managers more concerned about about their own agenda than success of the people who follow them, and while it’s likely human nature to do so, it’s the reason that great leadership is so hard to find, and why when you do find it, follow it everywhere it goes because it’s going to turn you into a much better leader along the way.

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