Try Not to Throw Your Boss Under a Bus – Michael Dennis, CBF

Back Up The Boss

A friend of mine, let’s call him Tom, called to ask for my advice.  His company had a customer with a $1 million credit limit.  That customer had experienced some financial setbacks over the last year.  As credit manager, Tom believed that the customer still warranted the $1 million open account.  His manager disagreed.  She instructed him to reduce the credit line to $250,000.  Tom asked why.  The only answer he got was that his boss considered the credit risk to be unacceptable.  Tom notified the sales department.  The V.P. of Sales and the salesperson were surprised, but nevertheless notified the customer.

Tom called me because the customer’s C.F.O. had just requested a call to discuss issues and options.  As far as Tom knew, there were no options or alternatives he could offer, and no suggestions or proposals he could accept.  He asked me how I would handle this situation.  I told Tom that the most important thing he could do was to own the credit decision even if he disagreed with it.  I told him that the worst thing he could do would be to suggest that there was any internal disagreement about whether the customer was creditworthy.  I warned Tom that if he hinted in any way that he was concerned about the decision, the sales department or the customer would immediately seize on this information.  Worse, if Tom told either the customer or the sales department that he disagreed with the decision, he would be throwing his boss under a bus.

I think the best way to handle this is to accept complete responsibility for the credit decision.  To do otherwise makes you appear indecisive.  If you say you disagree with the credit decision, you appear disloyal.  If you feel strongly about a credit decision, ask for an opportunity to discuss it with your manager before the decision is finalized.  Frame the discussion as an opportunity for you to learn more about the way your manager evaluates credit risks, rather than a meeting in which you try to persuade your boss that their decision was wrong because doing that makes you appear insubordinate.

Michael Dennis, MBA, CBF, LCM

Michael Dennis’ Covering Credit Commentary. Michael’s website is

The opinions presented are those of the author.  The opinions and recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of CMA, or their Officers and Directors.  Readers are encouraged to evaluate any suggestions or recommendations made, and accept and adopt only those concepts that make sense to them.

11 Replies to “Try Not to Throw Your Boss Under a Bus – Michael Dennis, CBF”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Haven’t talked to you in a while. Enjoy your articles. I’ll take this one—Try Not to Throw Your Boss Under a Bus—one step further.

    In some situations I agree completely with your premise that presenting a united front makes your company, and you personally, look best.

    But as a boss I know there are other circumstances where the reason why a customer stays with us is the relationship they’ve developed with one of my employees. The customer would expect my employee to fight for them. In these situations I’m happy to play the bad cop and I encourage my employees to throw me under the bus.

    Depending on the nature of the relationship with the customer, differences of opinion on our part here don’t necessarily make us look weak, indecisive, etc. On the contrary it makes it look like everyone gets heard . . . even if the decision doesn’t go the way the customer wants it to.


  2. Interesting food for thought, though, I might have to agree with Gary…that it would go both ways. Hmmmm. I’ll have to ponder that a bit.

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Please keep up the great work!

  3. Good article, but it’s usually the other way around for me.

    In my career, it has been very unusual for someone above me to make a more conservative credit decision than I’ve made. At most companies I’ve worked at, the credit function serves as a balance wheel to the desires of Sales and senior management.

    If the decision by Credit is overridden, that’s all well and good, but I ensure it’s fully documented as to who and why. This is vital to seeing what works and what doesn’t, and to track the success of the decision. I also make sure to give my input on why I disagree; believe me, most supervisors I’ve worked for appreciated the counterpoint, even if they overrode my decision anyway.

    I agree that Credit and Sales have to present a united front to the customer, so no-one gets thrown under the bus over the decision.

  4. Dennis,

    Your article touches on the importance of knowing the credit culture and criteria of upper management. The credit manager should have no problem in tightening up credit qualifications if he is given enough input from his supervisors. Then he can face accounts knowing he will have the backing of the company. Based on his standards, the account was still worthy of the million dollars. But the standards can be changed and no one is necessarily right or wrong. If the company decides to reduce their risk tolerance, that’s the path they choose.

    Your friend just needs to know what weight to give credit variables so he arrives at the same decision as his supervisor. If he sticks to his criteria, there are bound to be future conflicts. If I’m a baseball pitcher and the umpire is calling strikes lower than I think he should, I am going to adjust where i spot the ball. There is no reason to continue throwing above his strike zone because he controls the game.

    Justifying the amount of credit is like arguing over whether a painting is valuable or not. It changes with the economic times and whether you discuss on technical merits or esoteric/subjective considerations.

    I would agree that under normal circumstances, credit’s recommendation is always considered too low. In those cases, documenting the credit decision is important. If the limit is set lower than the credit manager recommends and sales are impacted, I’m sure the sales department will remind management of the reason why.

  5. Guy

    Once again, you have made some very interesting and helpful comments and observations.

    Thank you for contributing your comments to my Blog.

    Best regards,

    Michael Dennis

  6. I also meant to thank Michelle. Your comment reminded me of my discussions with CMA before the Blog was started earlier this year.

    CMAs mandates were:

    (1) make the Blogs entertaining, and
    (2) make them relevant to or thought provoking for credit and collection professionals.

  7. Michael,

    I just threw myself under the bus, all wheels! A customer sent us a rather nasty email claiming credits due him from 2 years ago. He went on and on and on about his pricing issues. All of his issues likely stemmed from his recent accident with one of our trailers and $20,000.00 in damage. He managed to find $22,000.00 in credits due him…..He entiled his email: Systematicly abusing a customer and copied almost every name he knew in my organization. Well he does not pay us well and I responded to the email….I hit reply all, removed his name and responded: He systematicly fails to pay us too! What I did not catch is he buried himself among the cc’s with a completely different email address. Got me with all wheels of the bus!

    Needless to say when I got his rather unfriendly response I had to do some back tracking and then advise my manager’s of what had happened. He excepted my apology and then the next day still forwarded his reply to me on to everyone on the original email. As a matter of policy if I make a mistake I immediately own it, which is what saved me from the bus running over me again.

    Lesson Learned: Always, always double check who is getting your emails.

  8. My most memorable email gaffe involved a message sent to a customer which I didn’t bother to re-read because it was six (6) words long.

    What I intended to write was this: Thank you for all your help.

    The message I actually sent was this: Thank you for all your hell.

    Lesson learned. Always read messages before sending them. Also, include the recipients email address only after you have read it, spell checked and edited it if necessary.

  9. I enjoyed the Blog. I think Gary made some excellent points in his response that require serious consideration.

    In this situation, if Tom had an in depth discussion with his manager, he would understand the rationale for the decision.

    I think the ‘real problem’ involves the breakdown in communication between Tom and his boss. Therefore, I think the solution for Tom and the advise for readers is this: Make sure you understand management’s rationale for the overrides they make of any decision you make.

    You cannot support and own the credit decision if you do not understand the decision.

    All the best!


  10. Hi Margaret,

    You’re right. The missing piece of the puzzle was why $250K was the right credit limit for Tom’s customer. I didn’t see it.

    I passed along your advice to ‘Tom.’ I am sure he appreciates it.


  11. Disagree. The boss was not effectively managing his responsibility. We cannot have credit management on a whim or a gut-feel. There has to be some science. A manager taking this approach simply does not know his field and needs to experience the bus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *