Sometimes Leaders Have to Put it All on the Line

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Sometimes Leaders Have to Put it All on the Line

In the late 1980’s I left a very good job because I refused to follow a direct order that, though legal, was contrary to both policy and practice of the organization. Moreover, carrying it out would have materially harmed the livelihood and careers of some good people for no good reason. I certainly didn’t take the matter lightly, as my family, like most, likes to eat and pay its bills. Yet, I’ve seldom looked back… until recently, when Acting U.S. Attorney General, Sally Yates similarly disobeyed an order (albeit more publicly), and paid a similar price. She got to hear the two words made famous by Donald Trump in his last job, without having to join the Screen Actors Guild.

I totally get the fact that people who refuse lawful orders in the workplace get fired. They have to, because no organization can or should tolerate insubordination.

That said, I don’t know whether Sally Yates was given a lawful order pertaining to the Muslim / Travel / Refuge Ban or not. But what I do know is that there is evidence aplenty suggesting that she firmly believed that what she was expected to do was wrong, and thus formed the basis for her refusal to comply. But this post isn’t about Sally, or me.

Rather, it is about leadership, and the requirements thereof. There is a lesson here for everyone who occupies or aspires to a leadership role. Sometimes you have to go where Sally did and put yourself in the crosshairs. It comes with the territory. To do any less is cowardice, and a gross leadership failure. You cannot tell others who would follow you to always do what they think is right and then set a lower bar for yourself. If you don’t want the incremental responsibility, please find some other way to make a living, because leadership is not for you. 

People who volunteer, or allow themselves to be drafted into a leadership position should know from the very start that they are a couple steps closer to the back door than everyone else. With each successive rung up the ladder, the odds of one day getting deselected increase. That’s just the way it is. So here’s the deal – If you can subordinate your self-interest to the greater good of the organization, be it a commercial endeavor, government, or NGO, have reasonably good judgment and the courage of your convictions, there’s probably a leadership role out there for you. Please consider it. We need a lot more good ones.

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