Is the Time Right For You to Speak Out?

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development
Is the Time Right For You to Speak Out?

Google “songs about money” and entries like “40 best songs about money” and “12 best songs about money. EVER” pop up.

The search results are less abundant if you google “songs about ethics.” No 12- or 40-best lists appear. “Top 10 social and political songs of our times” is as close as it gets.

The pattern of emphasizing economics over ethics plays out in many workplace practices and cultures.

Money has become the end rather than a means to an end.

The pressures to conform to workplace economic norms are everywhere. The axiom “you’re only as good as your last set of numbers” is a performance standard embraced by many bosses. People in boardrooms are reminded “cash is king.” Resumes are packed with claims of “saving over $600k in payroll” and “grew profitability by $10m year over year.”

Suppose, though, you understand the importance of economic performance but aren’t willing to do whatever it takes or embrace the notion the ends justify the means.

Rather, you want to make your company successful AND you want ethics, justice, relationships, and results.

That being your motivation, how do you step in the opposite direction—away from peer pressure, business norms, groupthink, and the power of conformity—to share a perspective that’s contrary to both expected and rewarded workplace behavior?

The first step is to assess your personal tolerance for risk-taking as well as that of your organization. You need to know if you can withstand the pain and opportunity that come with embodying truisms such as speaking truth to power and marching to a different drummer.

“Risk-taking is hard to adopt among leaders,” says Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”

there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right. ~Martin Luther King

Only you will know if the time is right for you to step up, take the risk, and speak out.

As you consider taking the first step in being different, explore these issues so the action you take is informed, thoughtful, and purposeful:

Is this issue important to only you or do others share it? Will those who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?

How has your corporate culture reacted to those who have challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept the consequences of deviating from the norm? Are you willing to be singled out? To be alone? Are you equipped to lose your job?

Are you willing to be the center of attention? To deal with your position going viral within the company?  Are you ready to be emulated and/or attacked?

Do you have solid solutions in mind? Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many? Are you willing to push for change?

Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, both personal and professional, of the stand you’re championing?

Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure? Of success? Will your self-esteem survive the hit? Can your ego withstand the attacks if you fail or the glory if you succeed?

Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system to nurture you along the way regardless of the outcome?

Deciding to speak up or to continue to go along to get along is a personal choice.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your calling or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Be thoughtful. Be prepared. Do what’s right for you.

And please be kind as you do it.

Have you ever take a courageous and ethical step? What prompted your choice?
Photo Credit: Pixabay

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mary C. Schaefer  |  10 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Hi Jane. What a great juxtaposition of money and ethics with the commentary on searching for songs. Brilliant.

I can’t be very detailed with my story because of the nature of the situation. Once when I was an HR manager our organization suffered a significant blow. My boss told me my job in the situation was to do THIS (an ethical thing). The pressure mounted. Do you know that within a month my boss asked me to relent? I was asked me to do the exact thing I was told not to do. I responded that I would not be doing that. I referred everyone who pressured me to our legal department because I knew that liability (i.e. the possibility of having to pay out $$ and end up in the papers) was the only thing that would seem reasonable to those pressuring me.

That is not my only example for standing up for what I thought was right. What is funny, if that is the right word, is that when I spoke truthfully, with reasoning no one could argue with, I NEVER felt a backlash. That was actually sort of disappointing to me because it showed me that those in power had no backbone.

I was always prepared to lose my job. I planned for it. I never wanted to feel like my choices were compromised because I felt cornered and had to keep a job. Ultimately I chose to leave voluntarily.

I KNOW that everyone who speaks up is not as fortunate as I. It’s tough when there is a lot at stake personally.

Thanks for presenting the perfect questions to ask ourselves when faced with tough choices.

Jane Perdue  |  10 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Kudos, Mary, for being willing to have the courageous conversation! And to be willing to risk it all. I’ve encountered a number of good people who, for a variety of reasons (single mom, no financial safety net, enormous medical bills, etc.), were squeezed into looking the other way when unethical, and sometimes illegal, activities occurred. Heart-breaking that companies put people in those positions.

Big thanks and smiles for sharing and advancing the conversation!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  10 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Jane, I will be referring people to your post regularly. Such an incisive presentation of money vs. ethics.

Jane Perdue  |  10 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Much appreciated, Mary!

Jane  |  11 Feb 2017  |  Reply

It’s been a few years, but I was heartsick when the very profitable company I worked for decided that they didn’t want to pay the fee for two people to work across United States lines. They were told to say they were going on a fishing trip with no work involved. For under $500 this company I admired, broke my admiration in half. I contacted the CEO and told him what I thought. He had me meet with his second in command who had set the whole thing in motion. I was told they knew they were wrong, they would not be doing anything like that again, and thank you for sharing my thoughts. The whole thing still has me baffled. I would be way more than heartsick if I worked for the organizations who have been in the news of late. In fact, I would be the first to resign and would have no problem stating in my letter of resignation why I couldn’t work there any more. I’ve resigned from 4 places in my lifetime due to conflicting values.

Jane Perdue  |  11 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Wow, Jane, your story is heart-breaking on so many levels. How said that a profitable company would compromise its ethics for a sum as small as $500. I salute you for standing up for your values and taking a stand so many times! Big thanks for sharing.

John E. Smith  |  13 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Jane – excellent and unfortunately very timely article.

Your observations about the weak ethics currently being exercised by many in corporate and public circles are right on. I would expect nothing less from your writing and I have never been disappointed.

Ira Chaleff (http://irachaleff.com/) has written several excellent books about all this, including “The Courageous Follower” and “Intelligent Disobedience”, both of which go to the heart of the issue for many: How do we stand up for what is right in a positive and potentially game-changing way?

I’m a bit detached from goings-on here at LCG these day (new career), but reading your article and the discussion between you and Mary (also an intelligent and courageous thinker) reminds me of why I need to visit regularly.


Jane Perdue  |  13 Feb 2017  |  Reply

John —

Thank you for introducing me to the work of Ira Chaleff. I’m unfamiliar with his work…sounds like I need to remedy that gap. Your voice is missed here…you always taught me something new, and I appreciate that. I hope you are enjoying your new career in real estate. (Have a soft spot for selling real estate–that’s how I financed my college.)

Thank you for sharing and smiles until next time,


Juan E. Gómez Enciso  |  14 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Dear Jane,

I have been an internal auditor for several years now and in this practice we do face, from time to time, the challenge you present. I appreciate your prudent advise for assessing whether or not to charge on with game-changing initiatives, I find it inspiring.

Best regards,


Jane Perdue  |  15 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Juan — how terrific that your company keeps checks and balances in place. I’m honored to hear that these questions will be helpful…thank for sharing that!

William DeKlerk  |  14 Feb 2017  |  Reply

I spoke up at work, primarily for the reason to stop my boss from being a bully. It cost me my job eventually when I decided to leave versus being forced to do everything and anything he felt was appropriate. He left the Company six months later as the Company I believe had enough of him. I took a stand and it cost me financially, it made me move out of town (for a new job), and it took me 4 years to recover form the blowback from the Executives and from my former boss. At his new company he got demoted and now does not manage people. When you take on a bully, personally or professionally, be ready to do so, it may be the hardest thing you have ever done. At the end of the day, the bright line is, you are finally bully free and no one can put a price on that :).

Jane Perdue  |  15 Feb 2017  |  Reply

Drum roll, clap-clap and enormous kudos for you, William, for taking a stand and doing the right thing! It makes my heart ache, though, to hear the price that you had to pay. I so wish that wasn’t case and hope that someday workplaces will transform so that what happened to you is a thing of the past. Your courage in the face of adversity is inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

Felicia Linch  |  29 Aug 2017  |  Reply

Jane, great article.
Only this weak was I speaking to someone about “speaking truth to power”.
I work as an advisor to Politicians and Executives. Early on in my career it became clear that often persons in these positions are simply looking for someone to ‘rubber stamp’ their positions, even unethical and illegal ones! I made a conscious decision that I could not do that and so decided I would never be a full-time employee but would be a consultant advisor. That way if the client wants to fire me – fine but I will continue to speak ‘truth to power’.
I believe if you are called to be a leader, or work with leaders, that this is a pre-requisite, as the stakes are high, especially in the political arena when the lives of the most vulnerable are impacted.
I love the fact that you shared practical questions to help one assess if we are ‘ready’ or ‘willing’ to speak up. Not everyone is, and as you said there are different reasons but it’s an important consideration to bear in mind when we make career choices or take a promotion. Money can’t be our sole goal or we could end up in a position that requires more than we are prepared to give.

Thank you!

Jane Perdue  |  06 Sep 2017  |  Reply

Felicia – smiles and thanks for your kind words and for sharing! Those whom you advise and coach are lucky to have you…not everyone has the strength of character to candidly speak truth to power. I wish more people shared your view that money can’t be our sole goal!

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