Ethics to be Followed in a Chain of Command

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A chain of command is always needed in an organization for activities to take place in an orderly manner with clearly defined duties and responsibilities. A chain of command is also called the “pecking order” in managerial parlance and it makes things more obvious!

Not all organizations are run like a military regimen where the chain of command is very rigid. In business organizations there will always be some managers who are too meek, some subordinates who are over-smart, and some big bosses who are excessively nosy.  An over-smart subordinate may show a tendency to open up a direct communication channel with the “big boss” to circumvent a meek or inefficient manager. Some bosses may intentionally want to snub their immediate sub-ordinate managers by issuing commands directly to the second line of the staff below him.

But, for any organization to run smoothly with less ego clashes and political skirmishes, it is essential that some ethics are maintained in the chain of command.  Here are a couple of them:

Don’t ignore the immediate manager altogether

A big boss, not happy with the bureaucratic attitude of his immediate sub-ordinate manager, may be too impatient to communicate an urgent need to him and wait; he would rather prefer to deliver a task directly to the line of action, superseding any pending work the staff are doing. Under such circumstances, the ethical approach will be to call the subordinate manager along with his staff to a meeting, explain the urgency of the task, deliver the message directly to the staff and ask the manager to reschedule the other pending tasks suitably.

Keep your boss informed

If a subordinate staff is called by the bigger boss for any one-to-one discussions without information to the immediate boss, it will be good ethics if the subordinate informs his immediate boss about the meeting and then proceed.

If the big boss gives any direct instruction that calls for disruption of the work in hand, the good ethical course of action to be followed by the subordinate should be like this: “I understand the urgency of the task and that it should be taken up immediately. But since my boss has allotted the present task to me, it will be nice if you could ask him to reschedule it; you know, it will be delicate if I convey it myself”.

If there is an ego clash between the big boss and immediate boss that has clogged decent and direct communication channel between them, then it is better that the subordinate informs his manager immediately about the directions given by the big boss: “You know, when the big boss says so, it is extremely difficult for me to say no and I can’t say that the task in hand is more important. Kindly permit me to do what he says, or alternatively,  you may sort out the priorities with him and instruct me what to do.”

Put it in writing and send mails to all concerned

Whenever there is circumvention in the line of command, it is always better for the subordinate to put things in writing, if he is worried about any negative consequences. It could be in the form of points discussed in the meeting for formal approval. By sending copy of this mail to other concerned parties, one can safeguard one’s skin if anybody up in the pecking order has a tendency to disown a oral instruction.

   Chain of command in organizations can at times become too quirky, if there are some very inefficient managers in the chain or if organizational politics are too rampant. From a subordinate’s point of view, it is always safe to handle things in the ethical way, without taking sides or getting caught into the cobwebs of politics.


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