Monday, July 29, 2013

The Boss Isn't Always Right

I was going through some old posts and found this in my drafts. I wrote it back in December 2011 and never posted it.

The Boss Isn't Always Right

It’s almost 2012, so are we allowed to say this, yet? Are we finally allowed to admit in front of everyone that the boss isn’t always right? That sometimes the boss doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. That sometimes he shoots from the hip. That his vision for the future is more nebulous than he would like to admit, and that there are many hard, practical realities of running an organization that don’t neatly fit into it.

Or are we going to keep pretending that he always knows what to do? That success is as simple as following his directions? That we can bring him any problem, at any time of day, and he will have the ideal solution for it. One that’s coherent and part of an elaborate plan that connects all pieces of the organization into a single model of success?

Come now. We both know that’s not true. So why do we keep play acting?

Staff people, what keeps you from solving your own problems, from increasing your own understanding of your environment, and defending your ideas based on what’s best for the mission of the organization? And bosses, what keeps you from being silent? When they bring you something you don’t fully understand, why do you pretend you do? Why do you solve it for them when you know they understand it better than you do?

What I find most interesting is why I didn't post this shortly after I wrote it. In my fast-moving world, December 2011 feels like a decade ago, and it's hard to exactly recreate my thinking from that dimly remembered time.

But I do remember thinking that this revealed more than I wished to reveal about my own uncertainties and still developing leadership skills. What if my staff people read this? Or my board members? Would I be taking a professional risk by letting people think that I didn't know what I was doing?

Which, of course, is exactly what the post is about. By not posting it, I was answering my own question in the negative. No, it may be almost 2012, but we are still not allowed to say that the boss isn't always right.

I'm making a different decision in 2013.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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