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Why “Yes” People Are Bad for Your Organization

Why “Yes” People Are Bad for Your Organization

What are "yes" people? A "yes" man or "yes" woman would be what Dr. Robert E. Kelley of Carnegie-MellonUniversity would categorize as a conformist follower (Kelley, 1992). These individuals typically display a low level of critical independent thinking a high level of active engagement. They tend to enthusiastically complete any assignment with vigor and determination precisely as directed, without question, because "the boss is always right".

This premise was verified in my research. The data suggests that the leader can count on not receiving critical feedback when it comes to his or her decisions, policies or organizational operations that may be heading in the wrong direction. But they can depend on good support when it comes to completing tasks or supporting decisions regardless of the ethical or moral consequences. In my research, this premise was supported as the data revealed that in terms of displaying Courageous Follower attributes (Dixon, 2003), Conformist followers tended to display a low level of the attributes of the Courage to Assume Responsibility, Courage to Challenge and the Courage to Take Moral Action and displayed moderate levels of the attributes of Courage to Serve and the Courage to Participate in Transformation (Fobbs, 2010).

Organizational leaders would be better off relying on employees who are exemplary followers. Exemplary followers, (Kelley, 1992), display high levels of independent critical thinking and active engagement. They also display high levels of all five Courageous Follower attributes, (Fobbs, 2010). These followers are those that:

  1. Display strong initiative,
  2. Have a solid moral and ethical moral,
  3. Are focused on supporting the organizational common purpose,
  4. Will support their leader so long as their leader is supporting the organizational common purpose, and
  5. Is engaged in moral and ethical behavior.

The exemplary follower is not afraid to challenge unethical or immoral behavior of their leaders.  But they will do so in a quiet and professional way that lets the leader know, they have their support, but they need to change. The exemplary follower will be a cheerleader for sound organizational change, be an innovator, supportive team player and will not publicly criticize unwise polices or decisions. They will provide innovative solutions to what is wrong and is not afraid of sharing the credit (Kelley, 1992).

Finally, the exemplary follower will not be afraid to take moral action or leave the organization if the organization continues to engage in immoral or unethical behavior or abandons its common purpose. In essence, no organization would be well served in keeping a yes-man or yes-woman as an employee. In my view, those employees would better off in a place asking “Do you want fries with that!” On the other hand, those leaders who surround themselves with yes-men and yes-women may have some issues with acute narcissism and other forms of toxic leadership, a subject for another note! 

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Colonel (Ret) Terry Fobbs, PhD, Consultant and Facilitator for Gailforce Resources, is an accomplished public speaker, facilitator and media commentator on human resources, leadership, motivational, national security and community issues. With a BS-Zoology, MBA, Masters in-Strategic Studies, PhD- in Organization & Management specializing in Leadership, Terry has earned the respect of his peers, employer and Gailforce clientele. Terry is an ISO 9000 Certified Lead Assessor, a Baldrige Quality Examiner with the Center for Excellence in Education and the Michigan Quality Council and a recipient of the Michigan Quality Council Quality Hero Award. Terry has served as an adjunct instructor in Business Management for the University of Maryland. He is a member of the Academy of Management and serves as a member of the Academy’s Organizational Development and Entrepreneurship committees. Terry plays active consulting and facilitating roles for Gailforce Resources, working with CEO’s, Boards of Directors, Business Owners, Municipalities and Sector Groups to turn their business strategy into execution and their people into valuable business assets.

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