Yes, risk taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking. ~ Tim McMahon
Early in my career, I was the manager of organization development for a large defense contractor. One year, the General Manager summoned me to his office to enquire about the training menu we would be offering the following year.
“What’s this?” he asked, upon learning we would be offering a program on stress management. “Why are you offering this?”
“We’ve seen three employees taken out of the plant on a stretcher this year alone,” I replied. The stress levels are too high.”
“You will NOT teach stress management,” he bellowed. “Stress is a good thing. It increases productivity. It keeps people on their toes.”
This was a General Manager who ruled with an iron fist. It was widely known that it was his way or the highway. Very few people ever contradicted him in person. It was known as career suicide.
That being said, I knew I couldn’t walk away from this need in the organization. With regard to this subject, I was the expert here, not him, and I had an obligation to my “clients” to provide services they could use to be more effective.
My beliefs about stress were the complete opposite of the General Manager. A certain amount of stress is good – but not knowing how to manage overwhelming stress was not.
I left his office in a quandary. I had an obligation to follow the leader – to be a good and loyal soldier – which conflicted with my values about service.
When I returned to my desk, I pulled my staff together, which included the very wise Eric Klein, who like me has since gone on to become a leadership coach, writer and speaker.
We carefully considered the edict and soon rejected it out of hand. The case for stress management workshops was too strong. One way or another, we would offer these programs.
I was willing to bet my job on the matter.
After some lively brainstorming, we decided to take a guerilla approach – we’d change the name (but not the content) of the course. We began calling it “Wellness at Work.” Same learning objectives, same design, same everything – except it wasn’t called “Stress Management.”
With some anxiety, we published and distributed the menu of upcoming workshops to all 4,000 employees. I waited for “the phone call” from the General Manager, who, I fully believed, would fire me for insubordination.
The phone call never came.
The classes “sold out.”
I never learned whether the General Manager “approved” of the new class offering. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t follow-up. I suspect he thought the matter was closed the minute I left his office.
About a year later, he was fired. His leadership style – that of a classic bully who micromanages and insists that he is always right, led to his downfall.
Am I writing this to pat myself on the back? No. I’m telling my tale to illustrate the idea that leaders at every level have a responsibility to do the right thing, not do things right, as Warren Bennis likes to say.
Sometimes they turn out well, sometimes they don’t. I could easily have been fired for my insubordination. Had that happened, I would have left with my head held high.
A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for. ~ John A. Shedd
What “right things” are you avoiding by “doing things right?”
What is more mortifying than to feel you’ve missed the Plum for want of courage to shake the Tree? ~ Logan Pearsall Smith