Last week I wrote a post titled It’s Okay NOT To Be A Leader. In that post, I mentioned that even if you decide not to be a leader, it doesn’t mean that you do everything the leader tells you to do just because you’ve decided to be a follower. This is a follow up on that point.

I hate to own up to this but I’ve seen many instances where someone in a leadership position has told someone else to do something that was unethical. And those people did it, knowing it wasn’t the right thing to do. For my part, I haven’t always ratted those people out, which can be tough for a consultant, unless I knew it was illegal; I wasn’t having that kind of thing on my watch. Otherwise, I never got in the middle of a manager – employee relationship because I knew I was there only a short time and that the employee might suffer more once I was gone.

However, in health care, there are laws against what’s called fraud. For some of those laws, it doesn’t matter whether the person is in a leadership position or not, or whether they did something they were told to do or not. Those people will end up being prosecuted for the act, no matter what, and that can involve jail time or fines or both.

Believe it or not, the same kind of thing happens in the military. Whereas the military isn’t a democracy, there are times when soldiers are expected to know when a direct order is a violation of a military principle. For instance, a soldier might be told to kill an unarmed civilian, and if that soldier does it that’s what they’re supposed to do. But if that same soldier it told to kill a child or rape a woman and does it, that soldier is supposed to know that’s wrong and will be convicted of it, even if following orders.

See, there are no absolutes in following what a manager might tell you to do except the one that says you have to weigh your conscience along with what’s right and do what needs to be done. You must have the courage to do the right thing at all times, even if you lose your job while doing it. If it’s the right thing to do, the ethical thing to do, then that’s what you need to do.

Fear can cause people to follow orders without thinking, and if you feel that’s what you have to do to survive, then so be it. But know that, just like ignorance, it doesn’t absolve you from the law. Think about that the next time you’re told to do something you know isn’t right.
 

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