The Shocking Truth of Bypassing Your Boss

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

I surveyed a number of Technical Professionals on the subject of going around their boss. The results were surprising.

Going around your boss is generally frowned upon – it’s ethics are questionable. Ethics and business don’t always go together, even if you think they should. The truth is, an organization is comprised of humans with their frailties, egos and desires. An organization construct and set of rules often get in the way! So I conducted the survey to look at how a representation of the IT Profession behave.

182 Technical Professionals in the US, UK and South Africa were surveyed from across Financial Services, Retail and Law sectors. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ‘control group’, i.e. I didn’t survey a group outside of IT, to see how they compare.

Here are the results:

% Respondents Reason


Wanted guidance/direction about something their boss was not able to help them with


Needed to escalate an urgent technical issue and their boss was not available


Wanted to inform their boss’s boss about some news that they thought their boss hadn’t or wouldn’t communicate


Respondent wanted to discuss opportunities outside of their team/department/function


Escalation of a technical issue their boss was not able to deal with effectively


Their boss was unable to make a timely decision


HR issues were not being dealt with by their boss, such as performance measurement


Respondent felt their boss was incompetent in their role


Contravention of HR policies by their boss, including racism, sexism, ageism


Respondent’s boss struggled to grasp the technical subject

The survey highlights how prevalent the practice is. I was surprised and shocked to see how high some of the numbers were – I was expecting each behavior to be within single-figure percentages.

But what can we make of it? One interpretation is that managers in IT are failing their employees by not being open to discussion or easily accessible for communication and escalation. Another (but not mutually exclusive) interpretation is that IT Professionals are direct, action-oriented and determined to deliver.

One possible learning is that IT leaders need to be more connected with their staff, even when under pressure. Leadership is about followership. Followers are real followers when they align with a leader. If you’re a boss, you should look at the amount of information that bypasses you and goes to your boss as an indicator of your leadership skills and effectivess. Take a look at your email inbox and see how many messages you’ve been copied into but have done around you, as an example.

Lastly, I think it’s reasonable to expect this behavior anyway in today’s flatter structures. Professionals are being asked, demanded, to be fleet of foot in communication, and also to collaborate with colleagues outside of their team. It’s a challenge to traditional business ethics.

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