Disciplines of execution

Not long ago I met a young upwardly mobile professional. While discussing his views on management practices his position was clear: the subordinate has to do as he is told by his manager no matter the consequences! I kind of disagree: what if this ‘command’ costs company a bad reputation or money or lost customers. He was clear again: regardless, a subordinate has to follow what he/she’s been told to do! Lower ranked people have, most probably, less experience, less information and no broaden picture about the final goal. I was kind of surprised by such determined stand point, but had to point out that a company is not a military organization (even there some flexibility is possible). If a subordinate cannot execute the order then a manager cannot trust him/her, was his prompt answer.

A bit of a shock for me: from blind obedience to trust issues.
blind obedience
I have been managing and leading different teams in different environments. I do not remember ever expecting my co-workers (not subordinates) to execute blindly what I had ordered. On the contrary, I was trying hard to stimulating their own opinion(s), their own way of doing it but with the notion to take responsibility as well. I still follow what Ken Robinson said: “The role of a creative leader is not to have all of the ideas; it is to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued!”

I’m positive that the true threats to humanity are not the Hitlers, the Dahmers and the Mansons but those that blindly obey. As those that order cannot do it by themselves they can achieve it only through the means of obedient people. Therefore, I am strongly against the situation when a person in authority makes a decision or gives a command, that decision or command should be followed without questioning simply because a person in authority gave it.

We all have our knowledge and freedom to decide – don’t we? Therefore, I contend that the person must intend to perform the act given by the authority. This comes with price; one has to take responsibility for a new decision. If a person has doubts he/she should first confront them with the superior and ask for additional information/clearance.
management practice
This is my way. But, is it the right way?

Well, obviously, there are different kinds of bosses. Some of them do not accept being questioned. Nevertheless, no human person has unlimited authority, there is always someone above.

What is on the other side of the coin? There is the well-known Stanley Milgram’s shock experiment: a test to show demonstrations of the power of authority. On the command the experiment’s personnel apply electric shocks in increasing intensity to a participant who is located in another room. Despite all the cries of pain they hear from the participant, the experiment’s personnel continue to apply electric shocks as they are ordered. They are not aware that a participant is just “playing” but they believe that the right dose of electric shocks is given as ordered.

Stanford prison experimentAnother psychology test is the Stanford prison experiment led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. It was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Because of brutality and abuse of power after only six days of a planned two weeks' duration, the Stanford prison experiment was discontinued.

And now I have some strong doubts whether a subordinate really has a power to say ‘no’ to the authority in an organization? Are we really (only) imagining that one can have a free (flexible) execution will? Is it possible only with “special personalities” of a leader (see post: How can I change my personality for the better???), a leader that enables a subordinate to question and maybe decide?

Would you mind sharing how the authority in your organization imposes his will?

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