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The Boss Is Always Right

Bet you’re ready to disagree, right? I’ve had this on my list to write about for a while. One trend I see in business is a tendency for subordinates (often managers themselves) to ignore or actually try to undermine the agenda of a person higher up the corporate ladder.

In practice we all know that the boss isn’t always right. Not because we know better (sometimes we do, more often we think we do) but because the universe just isn’t that simple. If anyone could make the right call every time it would be a much simpler world!

There’s nothing wrong with arguing your case, making sure they see both your side of things and why you don’t like the other options. Good managers don’t want people that just say YES. So, once the discussion is done, the boss gets to decide. May not pick the right decision in hindsight, but it’s the one that needs to be executed with the best you have to offer. The only fair alternative (short of legal/ethical situations) is to leave.

As employees we’re not always going to be happy with decisions, that’s the nature of being human. But we can try hard(er) to support those tasked with making decisions, we can learn from their “mistakes”, and we can try to be a positive force rather than a negative one by supporting decisions that have been made.

Not sure I got my thoughts down well this time, but I’m looking forward to the discussion!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Andy Leonard on 17 September 2009

Hi Andy,

  Good points, I'm sure you'll stir some discussion.

  I'll only add this: You don't realize how much work goes into making decisions until next month's mortgage is on the line. Entrepreneurs and independent consultants deal with this all the time. Having been there and now working "for the man," it's kind of nice to let someone else make most of the calls (and not have to worry abotu next month's mortgage!).

:{> Andy

Posted by Jack Corbett on 17 September 2009

I know that it is much easier to deal with a decision I disagree with when I've been involved in the decision-making process.  Then I know the options that were presented and the reason for the decision.

Posted by Hugo Shebbeare on 17 September 2009

Yes, management has to be able to move forward and take responsibility for decisions after assessing all the qualified opinions.  There has to be 'the agree to disagree' situation, otherwise the workplace breaks down.  The manager has the right to state what is/isn't desirable for him/her to proceed with departmental directives.

However, if there is a situation where a subject matter expert is called in, such as a DBA, to ensure SOX and internal controls are (compliance with law) implemented, and then consequently yelled at for 'not knowing what he's talking about' or told 'this is gone on long enough' (insert other varied verbal/vexatious harassment) in front of several members of the team, and finally topped off with a racial slur, then you know the Boss is wrong.  The boss doesn't have the right to violate your rights and treat you as a slave either.

The conditions that can arise to or become an inappropriate allocation of resources,

or, another example, approved access and none actually given, or project plans approved in front of a department and never allowed to be executed (the openly block work from being done, directly reducing productivity), then this leads to typical prevention of advancement, and the waste of resources (and cash-strapped companies cannot have this right now as they are mostly cut to the bone already), which has to go back up the food chain (some sort of whistle-blower confidential method)...to show that there is clear mismanagement.

Problem is that often in IT, the senior geek gets pushed up without even taking the necessary level of management courses - which in turn breeds discontent and resentment from the team, since the company or the individual manager themselves are not honest enough to realise they cannot just 'deserve' a management position by seniority.

Posted by Andy Warren on 17 September 2009

Andy - absolutely, nothing like working solo for a while to help you decide if having more say is worth the aggravation. All about trade offs!

Posted by Tim Mitchell on 17 September 2009

I agree with Jack, that it's easier to accept when you can see some of the moving parts.  Further, I've found that there is less rebellion (active or passive) when management remains transparent about the decision-making process.

Posted by Andy Warren on 17 September 2009

Jack, I'd like to think that employees are always involved in decisions where their input is valuable. That's a judgement call of course...what defines valuable? I'd call it as being able to support one or more viable options, or even show an option as not viable.

In practice sometimes there are other considerations, even dare I say political ones.

I'd also say that if you have built the environment that encourages discussion followed by a decision and accepting/acting on the decision that it leads to more discussion and involvement. That's in comparison to environments where the employees practically throw tantrums and eventually the boss decides that if he going to take grief anyway, he may as well decide without asking. Not right, but it happens.

Posted by Andy Warren on 17 September 2009

Hugo, managers not being trained is the #1 challenge I see in IT, far more so than which server to buy, or even SQL vs Oracle and those kinds of things.

Posted by Steve Jones on 17 September 2009

I agree with Andy. Business, and often your department, is not a democracy. It's a benevolent dictatorship, or it should be. not always benevolent.

As a manager, I encouraged input, debate, discussion, and disagreement, but ultimately it comes down to my making a decision. And when I do, we all move in that direction.

Posted by Dugi on 18 September 2009

"The Boss is Always Right" - ok I agree, but if the decisions goes according his/her ego, it is very unacceptable!

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