The question on my mind: by speaking up had I done the right thing or the wrong thing?
It seemed like the right thing at the time, but there was a significant cost. Would my boss ever trust me again? Until then he had given me a lot of responsibility and empowered me to do my job very independently. If I even still had a job, I wondered if this would change the trust and freedom I had previously enjoyed.
I pondered what I could have done differently. I thought about what I needed to say and/or do to make things right with my boss. The truth for me is that I was not sorry that I spoke up as I truly believed we were going to make a bad decision had I not. It would have been very easy to be righteous about that given the CIO and others had applauded what I did as courageous and necessary.
Yet I wasn’t feeling very righteous because I had also damaged a relationship, one that was still relatively new and that I depended on.
It was now Monday morning and I was ready to face my boss and whatever the consequences might be.
Despite his intense anger and my initial fear, I was not going to be fired. Although it was made clear I had a lot to learn and some repairing to do in our relationship.
But did I do the right thing or the wrong thing?
In my last article I asked the question of my readers in this way: did I commit and act of insubordination or an act of leadership?
The comments on that article here, as well as the conversations it initiated in other channels, helped me to further distill what there was to learn. While most thought it was an act of leadership, the role of culture in the interpretation was emphasized. Here is my answer.
Even in hindsight I can honestly say I do not believe it was insubordination. As J.M. Stuart pointed out intent matters. My intent was to make a difference. My boss did not like what I did (or where and when I chose to speak up), but the fact that he did not question my motives made the difference between being scolded and being fired. That I acted in a way that ran counter to the culture was more an indication of my lack of awareness, and perhaps even professional maturity, than insubordination.
William Powell called it an act of “benevolent rebellion” stating “A “boss” may feel threatened, but a leader will welcome difficult questions.”
Yet was it actually an act of leadership?
I believe it was for one simple reason: because I chose to speak up for the purpose of making a difference for the organization that employed me in service of doing the job I was hired to do. I could have chosen to follow along and do nothing. In my worldview, leading is that simple.
Despite my lack of awareness of my bosses expectations or the cultural rules I was unwittingly violating, by speaking up in that moment I prevented the rubber stamping of a decision based on a proposal that did not make a sound business case. The decision was ultimately made to not move forward because the business case did not support the purchase.
This is perhaps proof that you can make a difference when that is what you are committed to doing, even when you make mistakes, do it badly, or upset someone in the process.
Leadership can be messy, but don’t let that stop you. The only way to truly learn to lead is by taking one, often messy, action at a time.
P.S. If you want to know more about the story this post is based on read Leadership or Insubordination?
P.P.S. Your comments and conversations made it clear there was a lot more to learn from this “case study” about leading effectively. Stay tuned…there is more to come!
Image credit: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo