How Do You Disagree with Your Boss?

"Everybody knows turnover at the top means upheaval. But new research shows just how bad your chances of keeping your job are." Thanks to the authors of a May 2007, Harvard Business Review article, "Surviving Your New CEO" for catching my attention with this lead in.

Turnover at the top is a fact of life in any organization and my medical center is no exception. The likelihood of retirements at the top in the next few years is very high. I like my job and if I leave it, I want it to be on my own terms. So, right to the article I went. The article is great. In it were steps you can take to survive, and even thrive, with a new leader.  If you are not a HBR subscriber, you can read the executive summary here.  

One word of advice from the authors was to "study the CEO's working style" and one anecdote in particular caught my attention. In this, an employee with a reputation for being blunt asked a new CEO how he should disagree with him. Caught the CEO off guard and sure caught my attention. Wow - if there is one area fraught with uncertainty, indecision and well, land mines, this is it. 

So, how do you approach your boss when you don't agree with him or her? More importantly, how do you do it to ensure you are heard and not harm the relationship? If you have worked for someone for any period of time you probably have it figured out but just how painful was it to get there? Let's say that some of my learnings over my years of work have been, well, less than pleasant. My approach, refined over time, has to been to watch, observe and generally work to figure out the working style of my boss and then adjust mine accordingly. I worked to figure it out. Now, what if I had just taken the route of the "blunt" employee and flat out asked? Wouldn't that have saved me some pain and misery and increased my chances of being heard much sooner?!

Blunt employee? No, I think he was rather sharp!