Opine Or Obey, That Is The Question!

Opine Or Obey, That Is The Question!

In my journey through swamps and deserts, I’ve had all kinds of team members. Some pushed and challenged me, and I celebrated their attitude. Some were passive and compliant, and I did not really enjoy them. Other leaders may have a reverse preference order.


In my early years in the civil service, I had a direct report—I will call him Banerjee Saheb—who would, for many, be a dream report. Whenever there was a question and I would ask him for his opinion, his stock answer was, “Sir, whatever you say will be done!” As a fresh rookie, I wanted his wisdom and experienced counsel. It would flabbergast me that he never had a point of view and was always wanting to be a compliant deputy.


One day, I asked him, “Banerjee Saheb, why are you playing safe all the time? You never disagree. You never opine. You only want my decision, preferably on file. Why?” He smiled and said that he was not like this until he had a boss who ruined his appraisal and career for expressing himself.


Banerjee Saheb is not alone. There are many who want to share their views, which are often not in agreement with those of the manager. But rampant mediocrity in leadership often has a sting reaction that shuts people down. What a waste of human potential this is. The irony is that such leadership not only survives but even thrives in many places because the chain of bosses above also prefers court poets, not independent thinkers. Even as bosses change, the behaviour largely and unfortunately remains.


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Prabir Jha is the Founder and CEO of Prabir Jha People Advisory. He has been the CHRO of two Fortune 500s and two NYSE-listed Indian majors.


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