Boss bypasses you and deals directly with juniors: why?
So, you are a competent professional in middle management (a.k.a. corporate ladder hell).
One day at the office you notice that your boss, the person in charge of you, is bossing around your subordinates, the workers that YOU are supposed to be bossing around.
This wouldn't be bothersome if it was a one-time thing. But if you notice it happening on a regular basis, then you might become a little worried and begin to wonder what is going on.
And your worries would double in case you notice that your boss is regularly bossing around not one but multiple members of your team.
Why is your boss managing your team?
What does it mean when your boss goes directly to your subordinates?
And what should you do when your boss undermines your authority?
In this article, we will go over the possible reasons explaining the behavior of your boss and how to deal with this highly delicate and unpleasant situation.
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Reasons why your boss may be ignoring the chain of command
In this section, we will take a closer look at various possible reasons explaining why your boss is essentially doing your job by managing your team.
However, keep in mind that the explanation of your particular situation might be a combination of these possible scenarios. Here we go.
1. Being directly involved in the project
Is your team working on one of those really important projects?
If your boss is talking directly to one of your subordinates who is working on crucial aspects of the project, then perhaps your boss wants to provide direct input in order to stir the project in the direction they want.
2. Streamlined communication
Has there ever been an instance when you messed up in the past and didn't correctly convey certain information and instructions by your boss?
If there have been misunderstandings or miscommunications in the past, especially on your end, then your boss might decide to bypass you in order to make sure that their instructions are conveyed as they intended.
3. Seeking a different perspective
Who knows what your boss is thinking? Why does he do what he does? Perhaps he is a seeker, both in his personal and professional life. An explorer of sorts.
He is curious about people. Especially the ones he has to govern with his massive boss presence.
So he has set out to figure out what you and, by extension, his subordinates are thinking about the work they are doing. That is why he has decided to do some in-person bossing.
Keep in mind that your boss speaking directly to your subordinates is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially if this is what is going on.
4. Personal relationships or favoritism
As you know, every workplace is a complicated web of intrigue, desire, and struggle for power and dominance.
Your workplace is no different.
And it just so happens that your boss has certain subordinates that he favors. He likes to talk to them in the office or even work closely with them.
Therefore, just because you are the manager of somebody doesn't mean that your boss is not allowed to talk or work closely with other subordinates.
This applies especially in companies with “open culture” where “the chain of command” is something that is often ignored.
Also, have you considered that your boss might be attracted to that particular junior? Maybe they are using their status and authority in order to get to know that person a little bit better.
5. It's an emergency (or other specific circumstances)
Perhaps your boss was dealing with an emergency and you weren't around to be bossed around by them.
So they went straight to the person who had to be informed of some new instructions.
6. Lack of confidence in your management skills
Of course, the worst possible explanation would be that you are a lousy manager.
And your boss knows this.
They think that you are downright incompetent. Therefore, you can't be trusted with important information. So they decided to take matters into their own hands.
What to do if your boss bypasses you and deals directly with your subordinates
Right now you might feel frustrated and helpless. But rest assured that there is plenty that you can do to solve this situation with your boss.
Remember that part of being a competent and capable professional also includes standing up to your superiors when necessary.
Here I will present you with effective tips and actionable strategies that you resort to based on the specifics of your particular situation.
1. Assess the situation calmly
The very first thing that you should do is think long and hard about this situation. Here are a few questions that might help with understanding the seriousness of the situation.
- How often does your boss bypass you?
- Do they speak to just one particular or several of your subordinates?
- Are these occurrences brief exchanges or lengthy conversations?
- Does the bypassing occur online or in person, or both?
- How disruptive is the bypassing to your work?
Consider the answers to these questions and you will have a pretty good idea of the severity of the situation.
2. Communicate openly with your boss
The best possible course of action is to have a direct and honest conversation with your boss.
Ask them to meet in person if possible and explain what you have observed and how you feel about it.
In case you feel like your authority at work is being undermined, then don't be afraid to mention this.
Of course, be nice, polite, and careful with your choice of words. In the end, what you'd like to hear from them is a simple and brief explanation.
And if you have a hard time finding the right words, here is an example of what I would say to my boss if they were bypassing and speaking directly to my subordinates.
“Hey, Nathan, thanks for agreeing to meet me on such short notice. I noticed that you frequently engage in work-related communication with members of my team and I was just wondering what is going on. Especially, if you think that there are faults on my end as a manager.”
Or something of that sort. Of course, you can come up with your own words.
Perhaps you've been working with your boss for quite some time and you know how to best approach them with something like this.
Give your boss the chance to explain themselves. Don't interrupt them, just listen patiently.
In case their habit of bypassing is really disruptive to you and your team, then give them this feedback. Who knows, perhaps this situation opened their eyes to their ineffective managerial style.
But in case the explanation and feedback you get are negative, revealing faults of your own, then ask them what it will take for them to trust you again.
After that, you can work toward improving the way you manage your subordinates. Which kind of brings us to my next point.
3. Improve your leadership and delegation skills
You will surely gain the trust of your boss by growing professionally. And in your case, this means becoming a great leader and a great manager.
Great leadership is all about being competent and authoritative while being kind and understanding. And good management is all about precise delegation skills and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team.
If you work to embody these qualities and skills, you will surely become and middle management powerhouse that is trusted with bossing other people around.
4. Seek feedback regularly and align expectations
Your professional growth won't happen overnight. Becoming truly good at something requires time and dedication.
You will go over numerous projects, and weeks and months pass will pass by, until you are able to achieve significant improvement in properly managing your team.
That is why it is important to regularly seek the opinion of your boss. Listen carefully to any comments they make about your work and your team as bosses often drop little hints of feedback.
By regularly seeking feedback from your boss, you will show them just how invested you are in your job. And by doing this, they are more likely to trust you and less inclined to bypass you.
5. Align with their expectations
You see, if your boss is an experienced and competent professional, then this means that they have certain expectations regarding how things are done in your company.
It would be best if you figure out what those expectations are before the start of a project and make sure that the work done by you and your team meets those expectations.
By often meeting your boss’ expectations, you will keep them content and they will be less likely to interfere with how you manage your team.
6. Clarify roles and responsibilities
One of the best ways to ensure optimal synergy and collaboration between the different levels of management within a company is to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
This might be something that your boss has forgotten (or has never been familiar with). It would be in your best interest to remind them (or teach them) about this concept.
This is what you do. And this is what I do. Anything out of this norm is an anomaly that could be disruptive and counterproductive.
7. Build relationships with senior management
As a middle management employee, you often find yourself sandwiched between two or more corporate levels.
This is precisely why middle management is often referred to as “the hell of the corporate ladder” – you have to manage your subordinates while dealing with (often pretentious) superiors.
That is why it is important to build good relationships with your company's senior management. Let's just say that they will be less likely to harbor any negativity toward you if they like you, both as a professional and a person.
8. Have regular team meetings
As you surely know, not every team meeting has to be a meeting. Some can be skipped, a thorough email will do the job.
But having a team meeting at least once or twice a week can go a long way. Besides, you can invite your boss to one of the meetings so they can be in the loop of how your projects are progressing.
If you regularly discuss your progress with your boss, they will be less likely to bother you and your team about ongoing tasks and projects.
9. Document incidents
In case your boss doesn't seem to understand the damage that they are doing by bypassing you, then you can start documenting those incidents.
And in case your subordinates feel bothered and downright harassed by your boss, then they could actually build your case by providing statements later on. Which brings us to the only possible conclusion.
10. Escalate the situation
If your boss continues to bypass you and this is being quite disruptive to you and your subordinates, then you should approach HR.
Explain the situation to them and don't be afraid to go into details. At this point, your boss is being unreasonable and downright incompetent so this can't continue any longer.
Make sure to present a solid case in front of your HR rep and ask them to make a move. After all, part of their job is making sure that all employees are provided with the optimal conditions to do their job.
11. Facilitate a mediated discussion
One of the ways your HR department could help is by providing a mediated discussion where roles and responsibilities will be discussed.
Your HR representative will act as a “therapist”, making sure that the conversation between you and your boss remains civil and that the matters discussed will lead to an effective resolution of the situation.
Also, the HR rep will serve as a witness to what decisions and promises were made during the discussion, making sure that both parties will follow through with what they have committed to.
My experience with my boss bypassing me and dealing directly with juniors
As you may or may not know, if you follow Office Topics closely, I have been working as a project manager for an international tech company for over a decade.
As you can guess, I have quite the experience in middle management positions. And I have been in such a situation, my boss, the department manager, dealing directly with members of my team.
In fact, it has happened multiple times throughout the years and it has never bothered me and I have never felt as if my authority at work has been undermined.
This is because, you see, the company I work for has what is known as an “open culture” which fosters and encourages collaboration on multiple levels.
Anyone can speak to anybody regarding any aspect of our work and mutual professional goals.
My boss speaking to my subordinates directly has never been a problem and it has never had a disruptive effect.
In fact, my boss has been on “the receiving end” because I (and many of my coworkers) have had many work meetings and conversations with the boss of my boss who is the company's CEO.
So, in my particular situation, this type of “collaboration” of sorts across the corporate ladder is perfectly normal and expected.
Frequently asked questions when a boss bypasses you to speak with juniors
Is it normal for a boss to bypass a manager to interact directly with juniors?
This is perfectly normal in companies with an “open work culture” where anyone can talk to anybody about anything. This is also a normal occurrence when a boss sees it fit to bypass a busy middle manager in order to ease their workload a bit.
Can my boss's behavior be considered as undermining my authority?
Such behavior can be considered undermining indeed, especially in companies in organizations with more traditional (formal) work cultures where hierarchy is notable.
How can I prevent such a situation from recurring in the future?
If you find that the behavior of your boss is highly disruptive to your work and that of your subordinates, then it is best to have an honest conversation with your boss to explain the damage that they are causing. Escalating the case to your HR department is also an option.
Is it a sign of a toxic work culture if my boss frequently bypasses me to talk to my juniors?
This would indeed be a sign of a toxic work culture if your boss continues to bypass you even after you have explained to them that what they are doing is problematic. Also, here you can check our complete article on some of the most common signs of toxic work culture.
How can this behavior affect team dynamics and performance?
This behavior can have a negative effect on you as you might begin to feel undervalued and undermined. You might feel like you are being thought of as incompetent. With time, this will only cause more work-related stress. This can also negatively impact your juniors who might see these frequent interventions by your boss as disruptive.
How can this situation impact my career progression and job satisfaction?
If this situation is highly frustrating and none of your efforts to put an end to it come to fruition, then you might decide that the best course of action would be to leave your job. You might want to take a look at our comprehensive guide on leaving a toxic workplace.