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Under the heading "Disobedience and Its Necessity," author Robert Townsend quotes Napoleon as stating that in war (business), a general (manager) should not take an order from his commander-in-chief (boss) or his minister (boss's boss) whom he considers to be defective, when these leaders are not on the scene, and are incompletely aware of the true state of affairs.

Since the emergence of organizations that place manager in pyramid type structures with superior/subordinate relationships, there has been an ongoing debate about when to obey and when not to obey a given leader. This is especially true in the case of new small businesses where the issues of obedience must unavoidably be addressed between superiors and subordinates who work in very close proximity to each other.Several principles seem helpful in determining how to maintain the delicate balance this process requires. They include: possession of a mandate, understanding the "knowledge differential," and adapting to the necessity for innovation.

Possessing the mandate. Often in organizations, those in leadership positions wrongly assume that their position alone automatically endows them with the capability to exercise authority wisely. In actuality, position is only one of several necessary elements for maintaining a mandate. Others include:

-popularity - the ability to get elected by followers if a vote were taken;

-effectiveness - the capability to lead followers to victory: and

-personal excellence - individual competence in a field or discipline respected by those who have the role of follower.

The more of these elements that are present in a specific leadership situation, the more likely will be the willingness of followers to take direction from a given leader.

The knowledge differential. Strict obedience within organizations appears to be much more relevant when the individual requiring obedience is relatively "all knowing" when compared to the individual from which obedience is required. When this differential is large, the net gain from obedience is also large because the reward to the obedient individual is to gain from the knowledge of another.

The "knowledge differential" upon which the potential for "gain from obedience" is based, seems to narrow as maturity develops within individual followers. In fact, should a leader of followers who have a relatively high degree of knowledge about the task at hand mistakenly insist upon unquestioning obedience, the results can be quite disappointing.

When highly capable followers are required to follow without any opportunity to offer input, they become frustrated with lack of the autonomy their experience merits. If the knowledge or experience level of subordinates is not taken into account, a self-defeating cycle ensues.

For example, the flow of information from follower to leader begins to decrease when followers with valuable insights and knowledge perceive their leader to be "out of touch" with them. In other situations, trust by followers is granted less willingly when it is perceived that a course of action suggested by a subordinate is just as effective or even better than that specified by the appointed superior, especially when this individual has not recently been on the scene, is incompletely aware of the true state of affairs, and has not been astute enough to ask.

In situations where the knowledge differential is near zero, prudent leaders provide opportunities for input which stimulates and fosters the success of the organization at levels normally impossible to achieve by a decision maker acting alone. Assessing the size of the "knowledge differential" before issuing arbitrary orders to highly capable subordinates is a wise precaution for leaders who wish to remain effective.

Necessity for innovation. In organizations that require a high degree of responsiveness or innovation to accommodate high growth and rapid change in size or markets, special care should be taken to preserve an environment that fosters the development and expression of new ideas.

In these situations, maintaining strict obedience becomes secondary to accomplishing the mission of the organization. Otherwise, the preoccupation with obedience to the rule structure which served the past so well, unduly preserves the status quo, and leaves insufficient room for the innovations which are essential for the organization to reach its long term goals in the future.

Most organizations require a somewhat orderly structure. Even innovative companies must adopt the policies and practices of entrepreneurial management. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that the capacity of an organization to generate innovation often varies inversely with its requirements for obedience to stifling rules and regulations, especially where the success only innovation can bring, is dependent upon a highly trained or experienced workforce.