A number of years ago a colleague of mine came up with a label of obsequious sycophant to describe the slavish, unquestioning behaviour of some managers in our organization. I’m confident that you’ve encountered people like this. They are the ones who have a certain glazed over look to them as they go about implementing their orders. No questions asked.
Blind followership is not a good thing – especially when combined with the fallacy of executive infallibility. The CEO told me to do this so I must do it. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
I call it the fallacy of executive infallibility because, let’s face it, executives are fallible. They’re people just like you and me. They put they pants on one leg at a time and, yes, they make mistakes.
It is incumbent upon leaders to make a choice: do they slavishly implement potentially bad or misinformed executive decisions or do they demonstrate their loyalty and integrity by questioning the wisdom of the decision?
Effective leaders are skilled at walking the fine line between ensuring they have the confidence of their leaders – and being able to objectively assess whether the latest orders handed down from above are indeed wise and well thought out.
I believe its a leader’s responsibility to ensure that executive decisions are made with the best information. If decisions are flawed -or simply don’t make sense- there is no harm in respectfully seeking clarification from their leader. What was the basis for the decision? Have they considered the unintended consequences? Are they aware of this alternative approach? I have found that an executive may reconsider their decision when presented with better information or the risks of a certain course of action. Or they may not. At least you’ve made your case.
Challenging an executive decision involves risk, requires a lot of courage and a significant amount of social capital with the executive leadership. Certainly one doesn’t waltz into a senior executive’s office on their first day on the job to question a decision!
But when we accept that executives are people too -and capable of making mistakes- effective leaders know that its better to take a risk to ensure a good decision than taking the easy path of the obsequious sycophant.