What to do when the boss meddles

There are some scenarios in which the boss masquerades as the IT department and dishes out illogical directives. Here's what you can do when the boss meddles.

In my last post, I wrote about some scenarios in which the boss masquerades as the IT department and dishes out illogical directives. Today, I'll talk about what you can do when the boss meddles.

Present your recommendations clearly

If you feel that the server that your boss wants to buy represents overkill, say so. Don't get mired in a prolonged discourse about related issues. Focus instead on the issue at hand.

You should raise pertinent arguments about not having enough space in the server room or a lack of UPS capacity. However, be sure to go back and reiterate on the inefficiency of the proposed expenditure clearly using unambiguous terms.

Don't argue

That's right - once you've made your recommendation clear, don't argue. Even if it's the silliest, most ridiculous and naive demand you've ever heard, keep your mouth shut. Feel free to reiterate your position, but agree to do it anyway.

You can say "I really don't think this is a good idea. But if it's how you want it, the team will execute it as per your instructions." In short: state the facts, without any hint of sarcasm or irony. You're not agreeing with the decision, but you're indicating your willingness to execute the instructions.

Take an indirect route

Recently, the director of my company asked me to arrange a meeting with the company that sold us our new IP PBX. I was in on the original selection and purchase along with the general manager. There were some minor outstanding issues remaining.

Due to some initial hiccups, the director decided to circumvent us and deal directly with the PBX vendors - hence the meeting. We ended up spending one hour talking about features of the PBX and drawing call routes on paper as the director attempted to understand how an IP-based PBX worked. To make a long story short, the vendor's team left the meeting without finding out the outstanding problems. At the behest of the director, their action plan was to arrange for another meeting, this time with a PBX engineer in tow.

I called the team leader after the meeting and within five minutes, outlined the exact issues that needed to be rectified. I also connected him with an end- user who was able to give clear, unbiased feedback on the state of the system. Hopefully, the vendor will be able to drill down and quickly resolve the root problems.


This might prove excessive in some cases. But if it's a really big project or there's a potential to mess up spectacularly, it might make sense to have your objection documented. It could be something as simple as an e-mail stating your professional recommendation versus your boss's explicit instructions.

I once encountered a company that was considering suing an ex-staffer who managed a database server. The server hard disk crashed shortly after he left, resulting in lost data due to the absence of proper backups. Thankfully, the idea was dropped as the majority of data was eventually reconstructed.

When I bumped into the said staffer months later, his side of the story was that repeated pleas failed to move management to allocate the necessary budget to purchase additional storage. As such, the automated backup process eventually failed as the size of the database grew beyond available capacity for regular backups.

Refusing to do it

Refusing to follow a direct order from management is almost a guarantee to get fired. An outright refusal should always be the last option on your list.

However, it might be your only choice if the directive is legally ambiguous or even outright illegal. Depending on where you live, you might be able to resort to legal recourse if you were unfairly terminated.


So there you go. I certainly hope that my recommendations are useful to you.


Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.


Although it might seem like common sense to most, it is never a bad idea to remind ourselves, once in a while, how to handle difficult situations. Good job Paul TCB


We had Work at Home licensing which allowed us to install XP on home machines. But our company policy and Microsoft's licensing agreement prohibited distributing the license key. I communicated this to the VP in question and the VP in charge of IT. I offered to install the OS if he brought it to me. I think at this point it was a power issue and he just wanted the key. This of course escalated and in the ensuing meeting I was told to present the key. My response was that I would comply to any request but that since the request required that I violate licensing agreements and company policy I would need an email of that request and my reply to that email would be the key. Of course the email never came. So I guess they decided that they did not want their butts on the line. Even if I was told they would not put it in writing I would have sent the key in an email with the statement documenting my opposition. I guess the point of all of this is to add that if you are asked to do something illegal or against policy just asking them to document the request may be enough to kill it.


This was in the days before the OS had locking. We had on our Macs a tool which would encrypt the file table and required a password to start up, and after 15 mins of idle. The VP demanded humble me, a desktop tech at the time to remove it immediately. I said I would be happy to comply if the corporate IT security officer directed me to do it. Said VP said great, I hired the guy. I never did get the email, and he never did ask the security officer, who was a good friend of mine. James


"I once encountered a company that was considering suing an ex-staffer who managed a database server" I know you can pretty much sue someone for just about any reason but seriously..I've not heard of a company suing an employee or ex-employee because of a server crash. I'm still fairly young guy in the industry but does this happen at all? I mean I've never heard of I'm just curious. I could see if it was done on purpose but unless you could prove it, I would think that the case wouldn't hold up in court very well, would it?


Thats the first concrete example I've heard of something along those lines. I have heard of ex employees being sued over breach of confidentiality rules. If you go work for a competitor and share information that you agreed in writing not to share, then you can be sued. Frankly if an employee is leaving, the employer has a responsibilty to ensure nothing critical is dropped - it isn't all on the employee. James

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