Knowing exactly what would come of it, US Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer refused an order from his supervisor (issued at the direction of POTUS), to stand down on a disciplinary matter involving one of the country’s elite special forces. As a result, he was asked for his resignation. In reality, he was likely told that, in exchange for having refused to carry out a lawful order, he could resign or be fired. Having been in a similar position in my career, I can vouch for the fact that it is a lonely position. In an instant you go from being liked and respected to radioactive road kill, admired from afar perhaps, but unemployed (aka “in transition”) nonetheless.
What Mr. Spencer did is what good leaders everywhere should be willing to do, consequences and all. Why, you ask? Why should a person take responsibility for exercising independent judgment on a matter of principle, in the face of an order from ‘above’, from someone senior to them? Why not just do what you’re told? In truth, more often than not we’re well advised to suppress our judgment, salute, and execute. But there are times when doing so is taking the unprincipled or chicken way out. This was just such a time.
As a leader, you’ve doubtless told (overtly or by your position) a team of people who answer to you that you’ve got their back, and that barring circumstances where it would be unlawful, unsafe, unethical, or flat out impossible to do so, in the absence of contravening policy, you’re going to do what you feel is right, for both the individual and the group, and the chips will have to fall where they may.
One of the essential unteachable requirements of leadership is courage… Having the courage to say “No, that’s not good enough; we’re not going to do that,” or in matters of significant consequence and debate, “I see it differently.” With opposing orders in hand, when you walk out on that plank, you pretty well know how the opera is going to end, but you’ve got to have the backbone to do it. If you’re unwilling or unable to do that, you have no business asking others to walk thru fire for you. So, in that case, do yourself and those around you a favor and find something else to do for a living. Conversely, if you’re okay with the prospect of someday having to take that walk, come on in. We need you.