The Authority Thermocline

Dwayne Phillips
2 min readOct 1, 2020


by Dwayne Phillips

If I work directly for you, I will do as you say. If, however, your are three or four levels distant, meh.

A number of years ago I wrote about the information thermocline. Bureaucracies tend to reduce the flow of information as it attempts to pass from the top to the bottom. About half the information stops at each level so that at the bottom of your average organization, well, huh, what were you saying?

In the same manner, I have observed an Authority Thermocline. The authority of a person to direct those in an organization tends to halve at each level of that organization.

My direct supervisor tells me to do something. Unless illegal, immoral, or otherwise objectionable, I do it. I do like a salary, and most direct supervisors won’t tell me to do something that is so objectionable that I’ll quit instead.

Consider when my supervisor’s supervisor tells my supervisor that, “Everyone in our organization will do such and such.”

Only one of the two “such-es” passes through the layers. After all, it takes twice as long for my supervisor’s supervisor to fire me as it takes my supervisor. Half the authority falls to the wayside of the org chart.

Then there is my supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor (did I write that correctly?) states, “Everyone in our organization will do such and such.”

This time, only half of a “such” reaches me. It’s pretty easy to do a little and have that be sufficient to satisfy my supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor.

We continue up the chain of supervisory supervisors where I merely have to shrug to satisfy someone’s proclamation that,”Everyone in our organization will do such and such.” There are so many “everyone-s” at this point that no one notices my subservience or lake thereof.

Cynical? Perhaps. Realistic? Yes, at least in my experience.

Now we come to the advice portion of this post. What do you do if you are up the chain of supervisory supervisors? Notice in the above description who has the most influence — the direct supervisor.

  1. Go to the working level, those persons who do the work (me in this post).
  2. Bring with you all the supervisors in the supervisory chain.
  3. All supervisors stand side by side.
  4. The direct supervisor of the workers present says, “Everyone in our organization will do such and such.”
  5. All the supervisors nod “Yes.”

This is a lot of work. This burns a lot of resources. This works.

I suppose we have to decide if doing such and such is worth the expense. If not, do nothing.



Dwayne Phillips

Engineer, computing, consulting, writing, teaching, and a few other things in an effort to make us all better and smarter.