The Yes Man Disease

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a “yes man.”

I define a “yes man” as someone who says “yes” to everything the boss asks, without thinking things through on their own.

Although some people think this is the way the military should be, I disagree.

Now don’t get me wrong here.

You shouldn’t stand up in your Battalion Staff Meeting and tell the old man that he’s wrong, crazy or ignorant.

That would be a recipe for disaster.

But, you can use proper military courtesy and pull your boss aside in private, when he/she gives you unlawful, unethical, or impractical orders.

On the other hand, just because you don’t agree with the boss, doesn’t mean you should question his orders.

But if his/her orders are unlawful, unethical, or if he is missing a key bit of information that might change his/her decision, you have the responsibility to pull them aside in private.

Obviously, this won’t always be comfortable or easy to do.

But don’t let that stop you from doing it.

Remember, you have an obligation to the people you lead to ADVOCATE for them and represent them.

So don’t shun your responsibilities because you are scared to talk to the old man.

I learned a long time ago that I get paid to think!

I get paid to make decisions, and I get paid to lead others.

That’s what being an officer is about.

And if you always say yes to the boss, you will be a horrible leader!

I guarantee that.

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If you receive orders that are “way out in left field” and “negatively impact your soldiers” pull your boss aside and talk with him.

Get the facts.

Ask questions.

Find out if there is more to the picture than meets the eye.

But don’t be the person who says “yes” all the time, without thinking on your own first.

Think for yourself.

Think things through.

Trust your instincts and judgment.

Even if your boss is tough, abrasive or hard to approach, you still need to be a leader.

And sometimes you might end up pissing him off.

You might even get your “ass chewed.”

But that comes with your job!

And here’s a key point.

If you have people working for you, be approachable.

Let your people know that “you aren’t perfect.”

Let them know that you might make a mistake from time to time, and they have the responsibility to “communicate with you in private” when this happens.

Don’t be unapproachable.

As General Powell once said, “the day your people stop coming to you with their problems is the day you’ve lost your effectiveness as a leader.”

Don’t ever let this happen to you.

Don’t ever become a “yes man.”

Never lose your individuality.

Also. never lose your independent spirit.

Never follow the crowd.

Instead, lead the crowd.

As my old Battalion Commander used to say, “Dare to be great!”

To learn how to do this better, check out my Army Officer Guide.

Comments and questions are welcome…you can do so below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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6 thoughts on “The Yes Man Disease”

  1. "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." General George Patton
    You can't be afraid to tell the boss you disagree with them. As stated there is a way to do this without being out of line. Now, if the boss still goes ahead with the plan (unless it's illegal or unethical) you still have to execute to the best of your ability.

  2. What a difficult scenario to tackle, disagreeing with the boss. I love how you emphasize the age old principle of approaching a person one on one before taking any other action. While difficult, this tactic is so much better than the usual alternative: complaining behind the boss’s back or blinding following orders one knows are wrong or dangerous.

    1. 99 out of 100 times talking with the boss one on one is the best approach. That resolves most issues, yet most people are scared to do it. It really boils down to your approach and professionalism when talking with your boss.

    2. The main factor of all of this is communication. So many people are afraid to approach a boss or another individual about something they think is wrong. They instead talk to others and everything gets blown out of proportion. It is so much easier, and wiser, to just ask the boss for a one on one talk and clear the air. You will gain much more respect. You may not get your way, but you will be heard and the problem will get solved.

  3. My dad told me it’s smart to say yes, but it’s even smarter to know when to say no. I don’t know if that was his quote or one he got from someone else, but it has served me well. You are spot on about the importance to communicate tactfully and appropriately if you need to say no. I have found that saying no in the right situation has actually made me stand out more (in a good way) in my boss’ eyes.

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