"Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire." ~ Dale Carnegie
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." ~Peter Drucker
The simple reason that team's go over their leader's head is that they don't think they will be heard by the leader and they don’t think anything will happen with their ideas, concerns, and feedback. This should be a HUGE wake up call for any leader. Sure, there may be an employee with an axe to grind with you, or an attention seeker, but usually it goes deeper than that.
If you find yourself in a position where your team is going over your head to your boss, or to Human Resources, then there are several things that you can focus on to get them coming to you instead:
Communication is key – Part of the issue is a fundamental breakdown in communication between you and the employee. The more opportunities you create to communicate with your team the better. When you communicate you create understanding between the two of you which fosters trust. It also creates opportunities for you to hear their ideas and frustrations and run with it.
Listen REALLY Listen – Communication is a two-way street. Listening to others makes you more approachable and demonstrates respect. Look them in the eye, don’t interrupt them, and make it a point to ask clarifying questions about what they are bringing up. Most people get a lot of value out of just being heard, so even if you can’t take action on them, simply listening can be a big deal.
When they bring you something - Tell them how/if you are going to address it. This validates to them that you heard what they said and lets them know what you are going to do about it. Feedback loses its impact and meaning without follow-up, so become a master at following up.
And if you aren’t going to do anything with their idea - Be sure to tell them why you aren't so that they understand. There is obviously a reason. If you properly express the reason why, then there aren’t any hard feelings and they know that they’ve been heard. It also reassures them that you are acting logically and with thought out reasoning which, over time, gives you the benefit of the doubt.
In fact, focus on explaining the why better in general – One of the other motivators for going over a leader’s head is that they simply don’t understand what the leader is trying to do. Getting that understanding comes with giving them a window into your thought process. The more you give the “why”, the more dialogue you will create with your team, and the smoother all of your decisions will go.
You won’t gain the level of trust you seek overnight, but with a little perseverance you can repair that impression your team has of you, and you can become their “go-to” resource for all of their ideas and concerns.