V P In Charge of Saying Bull 

I’ve strongly believed that every organization should have a Vice President in Charge of Saying Bull ever since I heard of the position. I thought I’d read about it in Robert Townsend’s Up The Organization but when I went back to that and it’s sequel Further Up The Organization, I couldn’t find it. So, I’m not sure where the idea came from. Who knows, it may even be my idea developed while reading Mr. Townsend’s books.

What is a Vice President in Charge of Saying Bull? It’s a person who is held in respect by the person or people in charge who will challenge the decisions and assumptions being made by those same people.

We’ve all been part of decisions that haven’t worked. The boss says this is the plan to improve things around here, and we say to ourselves, “That’ll make things worse.” Sure enough after a time, we are proven right (at least in our minds). Someone needed to tell the boss it wouldn’t work.

Even worse, we’ve all made decisions that haven’t worked the way we planned. (At least I hope we all have; I’d hate to think I’m the only dummy.) We made our decision based on some assumption that, in retrospect, was wrong. We needed someone to challenge those assumptions 

That someone is the Vice President in Charge of Saying Bull.  Actually, most people have one but with a different title. Instead of the title of VP, we usually just call them “boss.” Having assumptions and ideas challenged by the boss is not unusual, but the higher on the food chain you go, the more difficult it becomes. Once you get to the top of the chain, whether the title is President, Board of Directors, or owner, there’s no boss left. The VP of Saying Bull enters.

It’s a difficult position to fill. The VP of Bull will probably be labeled as being negative. Nobody likes negative people, and nobody likes being considered a negative person. I had a boss that took every question about any of his ideas as being negative thinking. He made it clear that the organization didn’t need negative thinkers. Needless to say, there were few questions about any of his ideas. Judging from the results of many of his ideas, we certainly needed the VP of Bull.  

We all need to learn the difference between negative thinking and pragmatic thinking. Just because we question another’s ideas doesn’t mean we’re just being practical. Nor, does every question of our ideas come from a negative person. If no one brings up possible problems with an idea, the problems can’t be addressed.

Of course, most bosses will say their staffs always review their ideas, and they don’t need the VP of Bull. That’s possible, but if the bosses act like my boss, I’m sure the staffs’ review of the bosses’ ideas are tempered by the desire for job security. To any boss who feels their staff is serving the function of VP of Bull, I encourage them to look at their last idea that didn’t work out as planned. Did anyone sound a warning? If not, how well is their staff really serving the function? What about the boss who’s never had an idea that didn’t turn out as well as expected? Either he’s not trying anything, or he’s not evaluating the results of what’s being tried.

Of course, the VP of Bull needs to be quite a diplomat. Telling the boss time and time again that his ideas aren’t good doesn’t usually lead to developing a good relationship with the boss. The VP better learn how to tell the boss nicely that his idea lack something, or our VP better keep his resume updated.

The biggest hurdle is that the VP of Bull needs to be respected enough so that the decisions makers will really consider his challenges. Many of us have tried questioning a decision and received a look from the boss that indicated our thoughts were about as respected as those from an amoeba. If the VP’s questions receive the same consideration, they’re of no value.

On the other hand, the VP of Bull will need know when to back off. Faulty assumptions and/or logic are a matter of perspective. Just because the VP sees it one way doesn’t mean it really it is that way. Hopefully, we’ve all had that wonderful experience of having an idea work when we’ve been told it wouldn’t. The VP needs to make his input and then let the boss be the boss.

Now, for all of you who don’t consider yourself a boss and who have been nodding your head while reading this, I have a question. About that last decision of yours that didn’t turn out, where was your Vice President in Charge of Saying Bull?


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