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“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Steve Jobs, from one of Apple’s annual reports —

In my previous post I Disagree.  Now What? I related a lesson from my early career days regarding supporting decisions that I disagreed with.  It was a significant lesson because it woke up in me an awareness of the notions of followership and influence.

If you hit the link to that post, you will see that there are two comments.  Mike weighed in first, noting that in reality my disagree/disobey scenario has a “murky middle ground” and therein’s the rub … and Paul noted his particular difficulty with the disagree but not disobey notion.

Both comments are significant.  Both deserve time and space and thinking.  In this post we’ll ponder down Paul’s path.  My next post will ponder down into Mike’s murky middle ground.

I think I can explain why Paul has difficulty with disagree but don’t disobey.

It’s because he’s an exceptionally effective manager; and at least one of the reasons for his effectiveness comes from knowing what works and what doesn’t.  And what’s right and what isn’t.  And when the short term benefit from a course of action will be insignificant compared with the long term detrimental effect.

I know that there were — at least at one point in his professional life when I was in the vicinity — highly questionable directives that he was required to comply to.

He didn’t, and it’s a good thing he didn’t.

So what happened to the lesson from that last post?  John, you have every right to disagree, but you don’t have a right to disobey …

There’s clearly some nuance here that is necessary to explore.

I remember realizing, back then in real time, that the best managers were the ones who found better ways; a lot of times, those better ways would most definitely fall into the bucket of “disobeying.”

They saw things differently.  They disagreed.  They knew better.  But they were also leaders with strong values, and leadership courage.  Some more than others, and some were better than others in working outside the system while working within the system, but these best managers had the courage to not work the system when the system wasn’t working.

This is not for the faint of heart.  You better know what you’re doing.  And even then… you might not be justified.  There is always a bigger picture, a broader context, deeper considerations.

But leaders must lead.  Is it possible that leaders become leaders by not following?  Is it possible that struggling with this very issue is akin to the butterfly needing to struggle to escape the cocoon so it can fly?

Most of us are content to follow, and that’s good.  Some of us disagree, yet comply; also good.  A subset of the disagreers have the drive to voice their disagreement, in an effort to influence (let’s stay with the positive view here!) and, if they’re skilled in their influence approach, they nudge the system to change.  Also good!

And then there are the embedded leaders who say nope not happenin’ that way here … and they push the system forward.

Jobs called it genius.

I call it leadership courage.