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Make sure you protect yourself

I have already warned you that making decisions in place of your no-decision boss is dangerous and against the company’s procedures. You are on your own so you need to protect yourself against a wrong decision or at least a decision that your boss’s boss does not agree with. No-decision bosses will not protect you. They will, on the contrary, blame you if their boss comments negatively on a decision you have made.

If it is an important decision they will go the whole way and put the blame entirely on you, even proclaiming that you have become a ‘rogue subordinate’ and made the decision above your position without authority.  While this is true, limited protection can, be obtained by informing your no-decision boss when you have made a decision. 

No Protection

But there is no need to inform them, especially for the minor decisions you have made. They are happy that you have taken over and are deciding in their place, and further, they have such a good information system, they know quickly what and when you decide. But they only stay happy if the decision is considered favourably by their boss.

Not informing them though is not protecting yourself. Verbally informing them is not protecting yourself either.  I consider it is good practice to inform your no-decision boss of the decisions you have taken. This is not to get approval because, naturally, none will be given, but more out of courtesy and to maintain good relations. He or she is the boss, after all.

Limited protection

For the important decisions, I recommend you inform your boss in writing.

The lowest level of protection is an email from you with details of a decision after it has been taken. You will never get a reaction. But if the decision turns out to have been a bad one and your no-decision boss has done nothing to change it, which of course they will never do, part of the blame can be deflected by showing that your boss knew, did not react, so was in agreement.

The next level is an email to the boss with details of a decision before you take it, for example:

‘Just for your information, on Monday next week I have an appointment to sign the contract with supplier X.’

Again you will not get a reaction. But this time if the decision turns out to be a bad one, you can show that your boss knew what you were doing, had time to change it, and did nothing. Some of the blame that comes your way can then be deflected.

Your highest level of protection comes with the same email as above but with a copy to your boss’s boss. Here no reaction from your boss’s boss will usually indicate that the decision is acceptable. A reaction will prevent a bad decision. I recommend you use this level of protection with important decisions, where practicable.

It may, however, not be possible to copy in the boss’s boss in this way. Protocol or company culture may not allow it. If so, then another person in the hierarchy or a colleague of your boss can be copied for limited protection, before the decision is made.

Informal networks

The second level of protection is establishing informal networks within the company to get up to date information which will help to protect yourself for bad decisions. Just as no-decision managers build internal informal networks for survival, so you as a subordinate making their decisions, should build informal networks for your own protection.

Once they are in place they can be used to obtain other useful information about your boss and be used to can also cultivate allies within the hierarchy around your boss’s boss.

The network can be used, for instance, to monitor the status of your no-decision boss and answer some fundamental questions such as:

Are they likely to be fired soon?

Are they well installed as a no-decision manager?

How long will it take before they are discovered?

What will happen when they are discovered?

The answers to these questions, if there are any available, are useful while working for a no-decision boss. They help you to develop your career strategy in the company which, as I have already indicated, has come to a stop working with a no-decision boss.

Conclusion

Freedom to make decisions in the place of your no-decision boss comes then, at a cost. But the skills you need to overcome the risks in the blame game you are forced to play with your no-decision boss will be useful later in your career. Plus, you are making decisions at a higher level than your position, which in itself is an education. Otherwise, there is not much to gain working in the long term with these bosses.

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