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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401
785-532-5820
srobinso@k-state.edu

September 18, 2018

Being Professional: Walking the Multiple Boss Tight Rope

Submitted by Gregg Hadley

This is the third article in a three-part series about professionalism that originated from a discussion at the State Extension Advisory Council (SEAC) meeting this summer. The first regarded putting our best professional foot forward. The second regarded maintaining professionalism in the face of adversity. This week’s article regards walking the multiple boss tight rope.

There are numerous careers where professionals have multiple bosses – official, unofficial, direct, indirect, or otherwise. I worked at a large farm where it seemed I had seven or so bosses. When I was an Extension specialist in another system, I was answerable to my department chair, my college dean, my state Extension program leader, and my Dean and Director of Extension. I understand how difficult it can be to walk the multiple boss tight rope.

K-State Research and Extension is no different. In smaller local units, an Extension professional directly reports to a regional director and the Extension Board members. Extension professionals in larger local units directly report to a local unit director, regional director, and Extension Board members. Extension specialists – depending on their appointment and home department, office, or unit – may report to a center or institute head, department head, assistant department head(s), regional director, an associate director, and/or me. These previously mentioned reporting lines do not even include all of the indirect bosses that we encounter in our careers.

Trying to balance the demand, needs and wishes of multiple bosses can be quite trying. The vast majority of our Extension professionals do so very effectively and professionally. There are times, however, when some will lose balance and fall off the multiple boss tight rope.

For example, let’s assume there are two Extension boards discussing a large initiative between their two local units. It could be districting, a major program initiative between the local units, or a shared resource initiative. A board member in Local Unit A discovers that an Extension professional in Local Unit B was actively campaigning against the initiative.

Please note that I bolded “actively.” There is nothing wrong with appropriately voicing concern about an initiative or decision by using the normal procedures and following the appropriate chain-of-command. That is an acceptable part of walking the multiple boss tight rope. When an Extension professional uses behind the scenes to sabotage an initiative, they have crossed the line, fallen off the multiple boss tight rope, and may be subject to disciplinary action for insubordination.

Our system faces a lot of challenges. These challenges will require our Extension Boards and Extension Administrative Team to make difficult decisions. When you are concerned about a particular decision or initiative, don’t be tempted to fall off the multiple boss tight rope. Be an Extension professional. Express your concern in the appropriate manner.

Examples such as the one I provided do not happen often, but they do happen. That is why one SEAC member wished to discuss it at the summer meeting, and it is also why I agreed to write about it.

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