244 The Boss Determines What’s Important

The Boss Determines What's Important


NOTE: I’m intentionally going to bring you some shorter episodes designed to address topics that I think might be more impactful if they’re kept short. Today’s show is a perfect example. I hope you find it helpful.     – Randy


Sit down with any group of people working for a boss and you’ll hear all about it. And not just from the lieutenants, but from people way down the chain.

The boss makes a decision. Or twenty. Or two hundred. Not everybody agrees. Maybe you don’t agree. It happens. Bosses make lots of decisions. Not all of them find favor among the troops.

The cumulative effect is the problem.

Second guessing.

Passive disagreement.

Active disagreement.

“This is stupid,” he says. He’s talking about another directive from above. One he doesn’t agree with.

Then there’s this dilemma…

“My boss complains that I’m not proactive enough, but when I decide my own work she’ll assign me to something she says is more urgent. I can’t win!”

That is a dilemma. It also may be a different problem. Today’s show isn’t about crazy, micro-managing, can’t-be-pleased bosses. That a subject for…well, not another day, but another show. 😉

The problem I’d like to address is the problem of disagreeing with what the boss thinks is important.

1. The boss has access to information you don’t.

It could be the boss does actually know something you don’t. That could be driving the decision with which you disagree. Or not. But you have to consider it and you also have to acknowledge it.

2. The boss has his own pressures.

Don’t assume the boss is simply being a contrarian to what you think. Maybe she is, maybe not.

You’re better off assuming the boss is also experiencing some pressure of his own. His boss may be driving the bus more than you realize. The frustrating thing is you may never know. That’s okay. Just assume it’s true and you’ll avoid going crazy.

3. The boss has to answer for it.

Being the boss isn’t just about authority. It’s also about responsibility. The boss ideally has more than you. I say ideally because that’s where the component of politics enters the picture. If the boss is pursuing a course that you believe is illegal, immoral or unethical then I’m not encouraging you to blindly salute it. However, I would urge you to make sure and find a suitable way to express your concerns. Don’t compromise yourself.

4. You could be wrong.

I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s possible. Given the above factors, it’s certainly possible…maybe even probable. Now that’s hard to say with certainty because your boss could be a moron. Or a genius. Maybe you’re the moron. These are difficult questions to answer. It’s hard to know what’s true. Most of us think we’re right. That’s why we hold the opinions we do, and why we feel like we do. I’m pushing you to simply consider that you could be wrong. Don’t automatically think you know what’s best. That’s a bad trait even if you are right…this time.

5. Communicate concerns and make suggestions in the proper context, at the proper time.

Sometimes the boss provides a forum for people to collaborate, or discuss a matter before the final decision is made. Use those forums to communicate your concerns. Be open, be respectful and express yourself in a way that will give your ideas the best chance to be heard, and possibly adopted. Don’t be confrontational. Don’t be overly charged with emotions. Avoid putting words or thoughts into the mouths or minds of co-workers (or your boss).

If there is no formal opportunity  for this, create one. Just be careful and tread very lightly. Look for small opportunities to talk with your boss alone. In that context, be less forceful in your approach. Don’t confront your boss. Instead, ask questions that help you bring out your concerns or alternative suggestions. Ask your boss the questions, listen carefully to the answers. Then follow it up by asking your boss to help you learn. These can turn into wonderful opportunities for professional mentoring that too few workers seize. This may be an ideal time for the boss to share with you the reasons why your concerns aren’t valid, or why your suggestions aren’t as spectacular as you think they are. That feedback can really serve you down the line.

6. Commit yourself to the final decision. 

Too many people sabotage a decision and along with it, their career. The whining and complaining that goes on after the boss has made a decision will destroy your career. Do not work subversively. Avoid lunch time discussions where you tell your co-workers how you disagree with the current course. Do not second guess your boss out loud. If you MUST complain, save it for family or close friends outside of work. I’d nudge you to avoid the behavior all together if you can. Nothing profitable will come of it.


You want to be a person with helpful ideas. You want to use your brainpower to solve problems and make things better. Don’t neglect using the best tool you have.

Just don’t use it so much that you over do it. You could end up using your brain to overthink it. Have you ever turned a screw too much, or torqued a nut on a bolt so tight that you stripped the threads? Well, you can do the same thing if you overthink decisions that aren’t your own.

Now, go on over to iTunes and give the podcast a 5-star review. That way more people can find out about us and benefit from the podcast.

Thanks for listening.


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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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