Cover Your Flanks – when you talk to your boss’s boss…

By Mary T. O’Sullivan

“The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.” – Tom Clancy

The people with whom you communicate in any organization often signifies the level of information you will be able to obtain. In my daily work, in one organization, I didn’t communicate above the manager/supervisor level unless I was willing to make enemies and alienate myself from most other employees at my level. Jumping over a supervisor was considered unacceptable and could be a dangerous, career limiting, undertaking. Your flanks have to be protected when having conversations over your boss’s head.

Patterns of Communication

The patterns of communication were very fluid, however. Depending on who you knew, you could communicate at any level, even up to the company president himself. If you had that privilege, you only used it when absolutely necessary, however, he was open to receiving emails, as long as they were sent at about 5:30AM, to avoid prying eyes of the admin staff.

Back in the mid 2000s, the primary mode of communication was email, (although, now text messaging is the equivalent). However, back then, as is just as true now, phone calls are far more effective. In person visits are best, but most people are too lazy to get off their chairs and walk down the hall.

The email chains can get out of hand and become accusatory and negative. It’s always best to check the origin of the email before responding or to just start a brand new one. One colleague refused to participate in the email wars. He simply walked out of his office and into the office of the person he needed to talk to. The emails then could not be used against him, should any issue backfire.

Communication Breakdowns

Most often, breakdowns happen when people are very inexperienced, or just incompetent in their work; or when people have agendas that have nothing to do with the effort at hand.

The Wild West

In some organizations, the atmosphere is very Wild West. If you are well connected, you will get information and data. If you have not worked to cultivate your network and your sources, you will be the last to know vital details about the company and its functions, and maybe the first to be laid off.

A Positive Ethos

Often, it’s VPs and the President that exemplify a positive ethos. It seems the in-between level of management is the most self-serving. This level is the most important level to focus on cultivating allies, and it is also the most dangerous, because, they will do anything to get to the VP level, even betraying long standing friendships.

Best Self Perception

In many organizations, at the worker level, you may see people with more accurate self-perceptions. Often, many at the higher levels are just disconnected and delusional.

Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified EQi-2.0 and EQ360 Practitioner.

Mary O’Sullivan has over 30-years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping good leaders get even better through positive behavior change.