Defy authority — but take care

One of the most vexing of leadership issues is how anyone should appropriately defy authority. Throughout history we have read of those who did not (Abu Graib prison in the Iraqi War) and of the many whistleblowers who did. One instance on which I write in my book is that of an impaired executive and the questions from board members to staff – “have you noticed any problems with Mike?” The Board was growing more aware of his addiction but wanted confirmation from those “on the ground.”

The staff denied problems dooming the organization to face the truth later on in dramatic headlining fashion. What can be done to properly defy authority whether that be a mere disagreement with a leader or a more serious problem.

First and foremost, employ the human gift of perspective by recognizing that your allegiance to a higher calling than comfort in your job. You must recognize and support the mission whether it be personal or professional.

Steps include, (1) analyzing the problem or the question as was put to the staff with Mike and be sure it is well understood; (2) if discomfort continues, confide in a trusted fellow or colleague to see if the discomfort lies in others as well as you; (3) Discuss options on solving the problem that might not have been considered and (4) if the concern wears on, go to someone either a boss or another leader and have a conversation. The last step is one that should not be taken lightly. Depending upon the issue, you may have to leave the organization or situation as your values need to line up with your core being or purpose.