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I don’t know which boss to ignore.

Dear CEO —

I’m worried I’m going to get fired.

You see, I have a boss problem.

In fact, a two-boss problem.

I’m a marketing manager reporting to two different bosses who are always at odds.

We’re currently trying to redesign our company’s website, and the process is a mess. I’m taking feedback from the marketing director and sales, but they don’t agree on anything.

Every time one boss tells me to make a change to the design, the other boss changes it back.

I don’t know which boss to ignore.

My team’s morale is shot, and I don’t want to get fired.

What can I do to stop the madness?

— Jennifer, Milwaukee, WI

How would you respond, team?

Scroll below to read the CEO’s answer and join the team’s conversation here.

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Which Boss Should I Ignore?

Dear Jennifer —

Tackling the challenge of two bosses in a matrixed organization is akin to playing a fast-paced game of chess on two boards simultaneously. Every move requires extra thought and anticipation, ensuring neither game is compromised. Let's strategize on making your next moves the right ones:

Begin by organizing a joint meeting with both supervisors. Address the challenge openly, emphasizing the importance of alignment for the team's success. By bringing both parties to the same table, you're creating an environment where conflicting directions can be recognized and addressed in real time.

The first time doing this can feel awkward, especially given your situation. One thing that helped me (the last time I dealt with this issue) was to come prepared with a list of “issues to work through” to focus the meeting and help determine the joint priorities.

It's essential to make decisions based on clear examples. Highlight the direct impact of their conflicting instructions using specific cases. "In the last two months, conflicting directions led to us reallocating resources four times, which equated to X hours of lost productivity." Facts, backed by data, often paint a clearer picture.

Next, suggest a solution, such as a task prioritization protocol. This can act as a shared reference point for both bosses, streamlining decision-making processes. Having both of them rank tasks or projects in order of importance can help prevent constant shifts in direction.

Finally, advocate for a regular feedback loop, such as a weekly check-in. These meetings can act as touchpoints to address any issues or misalignments, ensuring smoother operations.

As a very last resort, if, despite your best efforts, the situation remains challenging, consider consulting HR or higher management. The perspective of an outside party can often bring clarity and solutions to complex internal dynamics.

I know it can be difficult to give feedback upward. Typically, we're on the receiving end of guidance and critiques. However, even the most adept leaders can benefit from constructive insights. Keep in mind, you're advocating for the productivity and morale of your team. With careful strategy and clear communication, you can turn this perplexing chess game into a winning position for all involved.


Your Turn…

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