When Your Boss is Wrong (And Everyone Knows)

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It happens. It happens more than it should. The boss made a mistake and all hell is breaking loose. Maybe the mistake was based on a decision made too hastily. Maybe it was made on insufficient data. Maybe it was made on an impulse in the heat of a moment. No matter the logic behind it. The mistake was made and the ramifications are rippling through the organization in a bad way. But the boss is intransigent and will neither own up to the mistake or make any change. Now what?

When the boss is wrong the best case scenario is when he or she recognizes the error of the decision and corrects it. An apology might be the right thing to do but for some leaders, that is not a part of the vocabulary. Just the act of making a correction could be enough to broadcast, “I made a mistake, let’s move on”, and the organization will move on.  But sometimes none of that happens and the mistake lives with you every day.

The list of wrongs that can hurt the organization is long. Could be a star performer that was terminated for no good reason. Could be sticking with a product that everyone knows is a dog. Could be promoting a jerk. Could be imposing a policy that everyone hates. Could be implementing a strategy that everyone knows is doomed to failure. Could be singling out a group for poor performance when it was due to external circumstances. Could be something the boss did that everyone knows is antithetical to what the organization stands for. Could be just stupidity or lack of awareness.

The story of the “Emperor with No Clothes” is not the same situation. At least the Emperor was oblivious to how he looked and seemed to be willing to change once the truth was told. The worst-case scenario that can occur is when the wrong minded boss knows that a mistake has been made, everyone in the organization knows it’s a mistake but no corrections are made.

The organization may not have any options but individuals do have alternatives to consider. Here are just a few:

  • REVOLT! Best not to revolt by yourself. If the mistake is killing the organization, even slowly, it’s best to gather smart people to explain the situation to the boss in the hopes the wrong decision will be righted. No guarantees that things will change but there is strength in numbers.
  • Present alternatives. Sometimes mistakes can be corrected most quickly if there are clear alternatives. If presented in a clear way as a better path forward, any good leader will take the alternate idea forward.
  • Demonstrate. Your personal displeasure can be shown in a myriad of ways. The downside to any overt signs of telling the boss that a bad decision was made, of course, is getting fired. Sometimes that outcome could be worth it and you will be on the record as showing your lack of support.
  • Resign. Best to have something else lined up before executing on this strategy. Don’t assume that anything will change as a result of your action.
  • Live with it. The only solace in hanging around is a belief in the karma that all bad people will eventually suffer. Research does exist that proves this to be true but how patient can you be?

Too bad those leaders still exist that make mistakes and are unwilling to admit mistakes or correct them. In my experience, employees who are doing the real work almost always know when a decision is the right one. If leaders would listen, mistakes wouldn’t be made as often as seems to be the case in the world today. A little listening and course correction is sometimes all that it takes.

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