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Perjury and Insubordination

November 22, 2009

Perjury is a serious, but uncommon, offense in the courtroom. It’s a no less serious, but all too common practice in the boardroom however.

“It’s OK with me if it’s all right with everybody else.” “Looks good to me if that’s what you want done.” “Sure boss.”

These are just a few of the phrases that are used as perjury is committed everyday in businesses across America. Sometimes it’s just easier to nod your head and say, “OK”, than to take the time to express your real opinion. Perjury is a costly crime in your business.

Several years ago a writer by the name of Jerry Harvey wrote an essay titled “The Abilene Paradox” in which he discussed the problems concerning the management of agreement. To make his point the author related the story of a group of friends spending a hot Sunday afternoon sipping cool lemonade on a shade covered porch in the small town of Coleman, Texas in 1961.

It was a quiet, but peaceful and pleasant afternoon until someone suggested they all get in the car and drive to Abilene. The author thought that was a pretty dumb idea being that Abilene was some fifty-three miles away and the only transportation was an unairconditioned 1958 Buick.

Before he could express his concern however someone else chimed in, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you?” Caught off guard and with the groups eyes focused on him, the author replied, “Sounds good to me if everyone else wants to go.”

Before they knew it the group had left the cool lemonade and the shady comfort of that porch in Coleman Texas behind and found themselves crammed in that unairconditioned Buick driving down the dusty road to Abilene.

Some hours later the group returned to Coleman, silent, tired and a bit on edge. In an effort to break the silence and to be sociable, the author dishonestly commented, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it.”

His remark was greeted with initial silence. Finally someone said, “Well, to tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because the rest of you were so enthusiastic about going.”

After a short argument and much finger pointing about whose idea it actually was, the group recognized that the painful trip to Abilene was the price they had all paid for committing perjury. Willing to go along because they thought everyone else was enthusiastic, nobody had spoken up about how they really felt about the trip to Abilene.

Individuals committing perjury will sentence a group to suffer the consequences of “The Abilene Paradox”. The group will end up doing just about the opposite of what all the individuals wanted to do. A bunch of otherwise smart people getting together and doing something so stupid that none of them would have done it individually.

What’s the antidote to the Abilene Paradox? A dose of insubordination should be encouraged from time to time. We all need to hear the candid, dissenting, but thoughtfully expressed opinions that we might not otherwise want to hear from time to time.

There has been some recent criticism voiced about General Colin Powell and other top military leaders being “insubordinate” in expressing their reservations concerning some of the President Clinton’s ideas for military reform. The President is a fortunate man to be surrounded by other’s confident enough to express dissenting opinions.

There’s little doubt that the Joint Chiefs of Staff will carry out the President’s orders when instructed to do so. If the President is a strong enough leader to encourage those with dissenting opinions to freely express them, in the long run, he will make better decisions. Insubordination at the policy making stage is a positive characteristic for any organization.

You’re a skillful and lucky boss indeed, if you’ve built an organization in which people have the confidence to stand up and say, “Hey, I think that’s a dumb idea.” That the sort of insubordination that just might keep you off the road to Abilene!

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