It is a sad fact that some bosses think their importance and the value of their ideas is proportionate to their pay package! Otherwise known as the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) problem, the overbearing, all-knowing boss has been the demise of many a good company. The Royal Bank of Scotland is one very obvious name that comes to mind. See

This is not just a problem for employees with overbearing bosses, consultants can have the same problem. The client may sometimes only be receptive to advice within certain parameters. Whilst consultants might be invited to think outside the box, this broad invitation can come with caveats! I was talking recently to a very experienced consultant who said he limits his advice to that which won’t upset his clients – and sometimes that leaves a fairly narrow field of what he can say!

The effective leader as well as having the right skills and experience therefore also needs humility and integrity. The best bosses will not be on a narcissistic crusade. Sadly, executives are appointed to boardrooms sometimes who are lacking in humility. In a corporate environment, firms know they need to appoint the best people to the top jobs but identifying the best people can genuinely be tricky.


So what is the answer (if indeed there is one) in corporate life to the all-powerful boss?

  • Ensure that information and hard data are used in the discussion. This helps to keep the conversation rooted in facts.
  • Make sure that different alternatives are explored and that the opposing view is expressed. What is the downside of the proposed actions?
  • Look for a consensus so that most people’s contributions can be included.
  • There is no reason why the leader has to chair every meeting at which they are present. In the military, the commanding officer will often attend but not chair a meeting. It also allows him or her to observe their team and watch the dynamics at play.
  • Not all meetings have to be attended by the boss. This can allow for a more open airing of view if the boss is not present. A report of the meeting can be sent to them afterwards.
  • Brainstorming is a very simple yet effective way of generating new ideas. It can flounder though if the boss shouts down the contributions of others. One very simple and practical way of not allowing the leader (or indeed any member of the group) to dominate is to have silent brainstorming where the members write down their ideas on post it notes. This is really helped if the chair of the group asks very open questions.

For the consultant, the skill is identifying what the client really wants as the outcome of the consultancy assignment. Constraints need to be noted and teased out. Sometimes constraints appear that will alter the initial brief.

The skill of the consultant is in working out if the constraints are always in the client’s overall best interests. In succession planning for instance, the constraint of appointing a family member as the new CEO may not always be the best one for the firm.

For all of us involved in organisations as employer, employee, client or consultant, relationships are key. Getting to know those with whom we are working and having trust and respect for each other is vital.

For many of us in any kind of leadership role it is good to have someone with whom we can talk ‘off the record’ and who is unafraid to challenge us. 360 degree reviews allow us to have the chance to receive really useful feedback from all those around us. The company chairman can play a useful role in helping the dominant CEO but sometimes the chairman can be insufficiently strong.

The role of Lord Chancellor may seem anachronistic and has been reduced in recent years. I think it a great virtue of our system of government though that around the cabinet table the PM is outranked by her or his Lord Chancellor. The secure and self-aware boss may well make sure they have their version of the Lord Chancellor who outranks them!

This a link to a great BBC article on HiPPOs: