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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The benefits of being insubordinate

As marketing guru Seth Godin writes: “What’s the opposite of insubordinate? I guess it’s subordinate. Which is better, I wonder. Is it preferred to do exactly what you’re told, to be clearly subordinate to the system, to the boss, to the short term demands of the organization - or are we better off doing the right thing instead?”

In my opinion, there is tremendous value as a leader to having at least a few insubordinates on your team. As senior leaders, many of us have witnessed CMOs who are surrounded by “yes” people where he/she gets too much agreement and too little candor. Often even the CMO recognizes it and doesn’t know what to do about it.

The challenge is to encourage every team member to speak up, to facilitate more back-and-forth, even if it means dissent from the CMO’s point of view. This also means enabling them to take action without “checking all the boxes,” letting them do what they think is right and allowing them to stake their reputation on it. Insubordinates are often the ones most responsible for moving the company forward – sometimes taking back doors to get stuff done – with the best interest of the company in mind. Insubordinates are the ones who tell it like it is and aren’t satisfied maintaining the status quo. I appreciate it is hard to do this if your organization has a culture that punishes people for pushing back or for taking calculated risks. But there is great value and a need for people who are prepared to challenge and push at times without dancing around the issue or flowering the delivery.

Senior leaders today are inundated with information and competing demands on their time. They are flooded with data, torrents of email and unplanned requests. So team members sometimes find they’re not actually accomplishing anything, but merely passing messages back and forth, waiting for decisions to be made. Make sure the vision is clear and keep the culture productive and high-performing by embracing a little “insubordination”.

What’s the ratio of subordinates to insubordinates that surround you?

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