Do Employees Who Perform have the Right to Disagree with the Boss?

Managing workforce dynamics may become a challenge especially when an employee’s behavior contrasts his performance. As a manager, having a top performing but disrespectful team member is likely to result in unproductive work environment, which may compromise the overall team performance. Although Peter Drucker believed that top performing employees earn the right to be disagreeable to the boss, encouraging employees’ disrespectful behavior could compromise a leader’s ability to make legitimate decisions. As such, contrary to Drucker’s perspective, top performers need to work within the precincts of an entity’s culture of mutual respect for the entity to achieve sustainable development.

One challenge of having disrespectful top performers is erosion of a manager’s authority. Despite the contemporary view that managers ought to offer more leeway for employees to make decisions (Amar, Hentrich & Hupic, 2009), allowing unconstructive dissent could disarm the manager off his ability to resolve workplace conflicts. For instance, where other employees note that the top performers have no regard for the manager’s guideline, and that no disciplinary action is taken against such performers, they may fail to report aggressions that the top performers commit. This would leave the top performers to work without any regard to the entity’s culture, norms and codes, which may discourage the other employees from following the culture the entity trying to build. In the end, the top performers’ behavior would be unproductive in meeting the entity’s goals.

A second drawback of encouraging top performers to be disagreeable to the boss is the likelihood of facilitating disharmony in teams where such an employees are members. Employees who argue unnecessarily with their bosses because they believe that there will be no repercussions for their actions are likely to be disrespectful also towards their colleagues. In this respect, the employees will always insist on the other members of their teams agreeing with their position due to their historical performance. Such behavior challenges achievement of a cohesive team, which has been shown to enhance team performance (Al-Rawi, 2008). Additionally, an overbearing employee will likely distract team members from focusing on the team task, which will further limit team cohesiveness (Mullen & Copper, 1994). In this respect, individual employee’s performance needs to be viewed in the context of the team’s outcome. Where individual performance is exhorted above a team’s performance, the entity is likely to fail to develop a competitive workforce and thus it continues to depend on few top-performing employees. Such a scenario limits effective knowledge transfer within the entity thus making the entity to lose any competitive advantage possesses when the top performers leave the entity or are away from work (e.g. when on leave). Accordingly, entities need to focus on developing the entire workforce so that the human resources can serve as competitive tool for the entity.

Another adverse outcome of having a disagreeable employee is the liability that may arise from the employees’ failure to follow guidelines established by the entity. Employees who feel that they are indispensable to the entity may engage in unauthorized activities that lead to the entity getting negative reputation. For instance, the employees could try to influence the manager’s sacking performing illegitimate activities in the department where the manager is accountable. The outcome of such actions would be the entity losing vital staff whom it might find difficult to replace when the truth about the employees’ activities emerge. As such, even top performing employees need to adhere to organization’s guidelines concerning aspects such as code of conduct, ethical business practices, and engagement with competitors. Disregard of such issues makes the entity vulnerable to risks posed by the external environment.

A counterargument that supports Drucker’s position is the need for employee empowerment. Contemporary leadership thought argue for employee empowerment as a means of enhancing innovation and performance. For example, Amar et al. (2009) propose that companies that wish to succeed should “abandon traditional structure in which decision rights are reserved for the people at the top” (p. 23). While an empowered team is likely to achieve better outcomes, failure is the likely outcome where employees engage in unconstructive criticism. Such unconstructive criticism, as an example, may lead to the employees concentrating on personal disagreements and fail to interrogate issues that help the entity to realize its goals.

Another reason that may justify employees’ disagreement to their bosses would be bosses who have attained their authority through illegitimate means. Illegitimate authority occurs where, for example, promotion arises from favoritism. Additionally, an incompetent boss may lack the authority to direct employees who have higher competencies. In this regard, the boss may try to maintain control at all cost, even by making unreasonable demands where the top performers offer a more appropriate solution to the challenges facing the entity. Further, the boss could resist change to avoid losing his position in the entity. In this context, employee opposition would be welcome, but, even then, the opposition needs to proceed in a respectful manner. In this way, the opposition becomes objective, instead of focusing on the manager’s persona thus enhancing chances of success. Objective opposition would for instance encourage better recruitment and promotion strategies that address the challenge of managerial incompetence.

In summary, irrespective of an employees’ performance, fostering a culture of respect ensures a sustainable future for the entity. As such, even top performers do not earn the right to be disagreeable with their bosses as Drucker argues. Instead, performance places a responsibility on the performers to enhance their performance by participating in teamwork. Effective participation in teamwork would not occur where the employees appears to undermine their leaders’ authority since employees who appear indispensable may act to discourage team cohesiveness. Additionally, such employees may ignore established guidelines leading to actions that bring disrepute to the entity. To avoid such a scenario, entities need to develop structures such as prudent recruitment and promotion practices that ensure managers have legitimate authority, which helps to earn employees’ respect.


Al-Rawi, K. (2008). Cohesiveness within teamwork: The relationship to performance effectiveness – case study. Education Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, 1(2), 92-106, doi:10.1108/17537980810890284

Amar, A. D., Hentrich, C. & Hlupic, V. (2009). To be a better leader, give up authority. Harvard Business Review, December, 22-24.

Mullen, B. & Copper, C. (1994). The relation between group cohesiveness and performance: An integration. Psychological Bulletin, 115(2), 210-227.

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