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Respecting the Chain of Command – Like a Pro

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Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Maybe you have a difficult boss or maybe you think it’s a good time to break the rules, but chain of command doesn’t just hold water in the military. Chain of command is an important tool in the hierarchy of a business and one that should be respected by employees. Teaching and understanding why the chain of command exists and why it should be enforced is important. Before jumping up the corporate ladder, consider these reasons to use your chain of command.

Following the Chain of Command Shows Respect

Not every decision your boss makes is going to be appreciated. In fact, many will seem counterproductive or even ridiculous. That being said, going to the next boss in line or taking your complaints higher up the ladder won’t endear you to your immediate supervisor. It will just create tension and distrust.

The chain of command is important step in creating trust and respect with your immediate supervisor. Ultimately, they are responsible for making sure you are productive and happy at work. While there are situations in the form of harassment or ethical breaches that it is advised to ignore the chain of command, it most situations, your immediate supervisor should be kept in the loop of concerns or issues you have in your job.

Ignoring Chain of Command Reflects Poorly on You

Jumping the chain of command not only looks bad to your immediate supervisor but also to the person you approached. CEOs, VPs, and COOs don’t have time to field every employee complaint. Their time is valuable and they rely on managers and supervisors to take care of employee issues. Using their time to discuss departmental issues will only leave a sour taste in their mouth about you as an employee. Discussing issues with your supervisor shows that you respect them and trust that they will act when necessary.

Chain of Command Covers You

Even when you try to follow the chain of command, sometimes issues are not resolved. It may be necessary to skip to the next higher supervisor or perhaps the ramifications of your issue are bought down on you rather than the boss who was informed. In either case, following the chain of command during your initial complaint ensures that you have documentation that you attempted to follow the chain of command.

The Chain of Command Enacts Change

The chain of command wasn’t just put in place to field complaints or complicate change. The chain of command actually promotes change by raising concerns in an orderly fashion. Imagine if every employee just arbitrarily decided who to contact when change is needed. While some people may contact the right people, many will just create more confusion by trying to involve employees that can’t help with the issue.

The chain of command gives order to workplace issues. Your boss may know who needs to be contacted but if they don’t, they will turn to the next higher person until the proper employee is found. This system streamlines the process so that issues can be resolved quickly without involving unnecessary parties. While an employee may think they know who needs to be contacted, often supervisors have a better idea of what employees perform which tasks.

The Chain Goes Both Ways

Respecting the chain of command doesn’t just mean showing respect for your superiors but also for those working under you. Showing disrespect for the proper channels will only encourage your employees to do the same. Why would they come to you when you so easily ignore your own boss?

The chain of command isn’t some archaic, cruel way to torment employees; quite the opposite actually. The chain of command encourages employees to have a closer relationship with their supervisor and enact change through a single system. Without the chain of command, the workplace would quickly get overwhelmed with complaints and calls for change without a unified way of addressing them. Unless there’s a serious reason for ignoring the chain of command (see below), discussing concerns with your supervisor creates a relationship of trust and respect while getting things done.

But Not in Every Circumstance

There are special circumstances where everything above doesn’t apply. And you need to know this. The chain of command has to be bypassed when you face a situation that is illegal, fraudulent or harassment. If you see your boss with hands in the cashbox, respecting the chain of command isn’t appropriate here. Witness a senior manager sexually harassing a co-worker? This neither. In most cases, and in most countries, these activities must be reported to a the security team, HR, the cops, an industry regulator or a higher authority. Whistleblowing in many industries (such as Financial Services) is mandatory, and could be against the law if you don’t.


Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

This post is part 13 of 16 in the series You and Your Boss
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