Dissent In Organizations

In WhyLeadersCantLead, Chapter 19 is "Quitting on Principle," a decision I think we've all faced.

"What do you do when the leader is wrong?" Often, Bennis concludes, "resigning [turns] out to be a remarkably ineffective form of protest." Better to stay and try to effect change. (p. 121-123) Quitting, it seems, rarely helps the dysfunctional organization, although it may well help to make the frustrated individual feel better.

Bennis says, "virtually nothing has been written on the dynamics of dissent in organizations," but suggests ExitVoiceAndLoyalty by AlbertHirschman. (p. 123)

-- BobbyWoolf, 08/26/00


People have authority over you only to the extent that you allow them to

Uh, sure - just ignore your boss, huh?

Pay detailed attention to your boss. Do your work, however, for your company. Your company will (probably) be around quite a bit longer than your boss

How much cost should one bear in order to be altruistic to a company? See discussion on CultureIsTheManifestationOfLeadership.

Remember that choosing to take or to keep a job you don't like is indeed your choice. If you don't want to do what the boss says, then you can choose not to do so (and accept the consequences). If you don't like it, and don't consider the pay and benefits to be worth the emotional cost to you, you can choose to JustLeave. If you choose to stay and to put up with it, then that's your decision. You have only yourself to blame for your choices.


A great deal of Dissent in organizations is the result of the various forces on an organization, and the sensitivity of the various staff members to the different forces. For example, senior management is often more sensitive to the force of the company's owners (shareholders, board of directors), whereas front-liners are more sensitive to the force of the customers.

An organization also struggles in a larger context between the forces of the desire to earn a profit, satisfy a human need, and conform to laws and regulations. This often gets manifested as dissent between the various employees focused on specific issues.

Is Dissent then the result of tunnel-vision?

-- JeffChapman


Ineffective by what standard? If you move from having a rotten time doing bad things to having a happy time doing good things, isn't that pretty effective? -- BenKovitz

There's a bit of context missing from the quote above: Bennis' point is that leaving an organization because your principles have been violated does nothing to change the organization and prevent it from violating the same principles in other people in the future. That's what he means by "ineffective form of protest". Assuming you care enough about the organization, you're more likely to bring about change by staying on and fighting for it, according to Bennis. -- RandyStafford

Right. Therefore, don't leave a company as a form of protest. Leave a company when you want to work elsewhere.

Leave a company when the cost of staying is too high.

That's good advice, but in reality, one may not realize when the cost has become too high, because it is not always obvious, especially when one hasn't experienced the alternative (which I contend is better than one probably thinks).

Speaking as a recent layoffee (I was a frustrated dissenter, so when they needed to lay people off, it was easy for them to choose me), I'd say that for the individual, leaving the company could very well be the best thing for you in terms of relieving stress, frustration, dread, and boredom. It may not be the best thing for the dysfunctional organization, but who wants to work in a dysfunctional organization? For me, getting laid off was like being awakened out of a bad dream. For weeks afterward I kept thinking, "Why the hell did I stay there for so long?" I felt empowered by living outside of the sick and dying organization and finally seeing what other options were available (even in these tough economic times). Don't leave as a form of protest, because it will be ineffective. But don't stay just because leaving will be an ineffective form of protest. There are much more important reasons for you to leave.

It's like a marriage. If you really love someone, then you'll stick around and take advantage of the ways they're wonderful, and you'll try to ignore, improve, or mitigate the ways they're awful. But if your husband starts slapping you around, it's time to leave. Too many programmers let themselves be slapped around.

You have a certain realtionship with your employer. You also have a relationship with your lover, your children, and your future. When the interests of these parties conflict, this may manifest itself as dissent within one or several of your relationships.


See also: ChangeYourOrganization, SlowPoison

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