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Not speaking truth to power comes more from futility than fear

General counsel usually say things like “My lawyers tell me what they think. We have candid and open conversations in private and during staff meetings.” Maybe. I have always felt that subordinates do not point out that the top lawyer has no clothes, or that the firm favored by the GC stinks, or that the pet management belief of the CLO is the laughingstock of the department. But I attributed that reluctance to buck authority to a fear of reprisal. The messenger who fears being shot stays mum (See my post of Feb. 1, 2006: how to reduce the chilling effect of a dominant personality or position; Dec. 8, 2006: a GC’s chilling effect; and Jan. 9, 2009: ideas are suppressed around a general counsel.).

The Harvard Business Review, June 2010 at 26, debunks my myth about employee silence. Surprisingly, “the most common reason for withholding input is a sense of futility rather than a fear of retribution.” If an Associate General Counsel concludes that time tracking is set in stone, why challenge it? If the head of IP will never stop hiring firms based on law-school ties, why butt your head against a wall? Giving up, it seems, is more common than cowering (See my post of Aug. 28, 2005: one reason for using a consultant is to let people safely voice their ideas; April 17, 2007: silence at Town Halls; and Jan. 4, 2009: electronic voting software helps air difficult issues.).

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