When is it time to be insubordinate, and when to remain loyal?
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Over the years, I believe I’ve seen just about every type of organizational structure in the corporate world, be it the traditional hierarchy, matrix, project teams, etc. No matter how you slice it though, unless you are the top dog, there is always going to be at least one person you have to report to, someone who is ultimately responsible for authorizing your paycheck. Even the top dog has to report to someone, such as shareholders. Regardless of who you report to, you owe your allegiance to your superior. If you don’t like the person, request a transfer or take another job elsewhere. I’m old-school in this regard; as long as you are in the person’s employment, do not malign him or ridicule him, come to his defense instead. Loyalty is a rare commodity these days, particularly due to obnoxious micromanagement and rocky economics, but you have to realize your success ultimately depends on your superior’s success. Believe me, if he is struggling, you’re next. You can make all the unflattering remarks you want about your boss after you have left. In the meantime, you owe him your support.
All of this, of course, means you should follow his orders and rules. In the military, you will be expected to do so without questioning your superior’s rationale. In the corporate world, it’s a little different. Hopefully, your boss will clue you in as to why something is needed, but it is not mandatory for him to do so. There will be some bosses who will bark at you, “Jump!” to which you are to reply, “How high?” If this is what you signed up for, you better be ready to do so, otherwise you would be wise to move along to something else.
It is hard to maintain your allegiance to someone who is either your junior, creepy, or you plain and simply do not respect. There will also be instances of personality conflicts where you and the other person see the world differently. Again, until such time as you move along, you should respect the wishes of your superior. This doesn’t mean you have to love him or kiss his behind, even though he may want you to do so. It means you should conduct your business as professionally as possible while respecting his authority.
When you are applying for a job, you should try to size up the person you are about to work for. What is his management style? What are his ethics? What type of corporate culture does he promote? Will you be able to effectively perform your duties and responsibilities for this person and in this environment? Good or bad, you better know the answers before you accept the job.
Is there ever a time when it is appropriate to be insubordinate? Yes. Even the military realizes there will be unusual circumstances when it is necessary to contradict your superior. Actually, there is not too much difference between the corporate world and the military in this regard. Two specific areas come to mind: ethics violations and a major mistake. It is hoped, your organization has a code of conduct and/or a policy manual. If not, common sense and the laws of the land will dictate what is right or wrong. Either way, if your superior orders you to violate the ethical rules of the business, such as cheating a customer or misrepresenting the company, it is not only your right to become insubordinate, it is your duty. The same is true of a major blunder. For example, if you are about to execute a contract for $2,000, yet it was intended to be $200,000 (where someone misplaced a few zeros along the way) your boss may become embarrassed if you correct him thereby showing your insubordination to him), but he should thank you later nevertheless. If possible, override your superior with tact and diplomacy so he doesn’t lose face, but occasionally tempers will flare and you may very well have to apologize for your actions.
If you feel you have been unfairly treated for your insubordination, you may want to go to someone higher in the chain of command. Human Resource departments may also have an ombudsman of some kind to handle such situations and reconcile differences. Either way, it is a smart move to document the insubordination incident as precisely as possible. As soon as possible, write your interpretation of events and, if possible, review it with witnesses for accuracy. Understand this, in all likelihood, your boss is going to be asked to do the same thing by the HR Department.
Insubordination is an ugly affair that rarely benefits anyone. The best thing to do is try to remain loyal to your boss and go about your business the best you can. If you are truly unhappy, try to move along and find something else. True, your boss may be a problem, but it may also be you as well. Do some serious soul-searching before you make a mistake.
Loyalty, dedication and professionalism are rare commodities these days, particularly in the cutthroat world of corporate America. Regardless, when you find someone you believe in, do not hesitate to stand by him through thick and thin. In all likelihood, it will be reciprocated, even if you have nothing else in common with your boss. A good manager understands hard work, but he doesn’t forget loyalty.
Keep the Faith!