Insubordination is good for the workplace

A product of the business world, Trump couldn’t abide the notion that his underlings would question him—even after Mueller noted that, in slow-rolling his demands, they’d limited his exposure to obstruction-of-justice charges. “Nobody disobeys my orders,” Trump insisted.

The best bosses, however, recognize that defiant employees are sometimes right and that, even when they’re not, their disagreement is useful. In 1985, when Jobs was fired from Apple and started NeXT, Hoffman went with him. Some firms, as a matter of policy, urge employees to speak up. McKinsey, the management consulting firm, insists that employees have an “obligation to dissent.”

Workplaces function better, business ethicists point out, when they make room for a certain amount of defiance. “I think you always have to make independent judgments about orders that come down to you,” University of California, Berkeley, psychology professor Charlan Nemeth said in an email. Nemeth, author of the 2018 book In Praise of Troublemakers, added that “people who speak up are often those most loyal to the organization.”

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