The Anti-Authority Leader

By | September 1, 2019

[September 1, 2019]  “Does not respond well to authority.”  This was written in my friend Wilson’ first Officer Evaluation Report after one-year on the job as an Army Second Lieutenant.  He was mad as hell about the comment but knew, deep down in his psyche, that it was true.  His mom and dad would agree.  He always had trouble with authority but now he was in charge of 33 young soldiers.

Being told what to do was not Wilson’s way of getting along in his new career.  Military peers would say he was a bit of a rebel; that “Lieutenant Wilson R. wanted to be ‘asked’ to do something rather than ‘told’ to do it.”  Such a comment was on his second evaluation and seemed to be a career-ender.  His wife would tell people that he was a walking contradiction; being in a highly structured, top-down organization yet resisted orders, guidance, and even mentoring.

Yes, Wilson adapted.  He always had a love-hate relationship with the Army and for several years he was on the verge of either quitting or being kicked out.  I witnessed many soldiers like Wilson during my long career.  These folks were often more creative, less amiable, and less analytical.  Psychologists that treated him, found Wilson to be the kind of person you would like to have as a friend but structured environments grated against him.

Initially, Wilson was an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army.  He struggled and seemed to never be happy.  Until one day, an Instructor from the Fort Huachuca Intelligence Center happened to speak with Wilson.  By chance, the Army happened upon a solution where they found the right spot for my good friend.

Wilson retired a full Colonel from active duty several years ago.  I asked him what made the difference in his life and what he thought of the U.S. Army.  Surprisingly, it was not the Intell instructor who made the difference but his wife.  I think she mellowed him a bit.  What he did say was that changing occupation skills from an Infantry officer to an Intelligence officer was a decision that allowed him to stay in the Army.

Wilson was one of those rare people who are leaders but who also have an anti-authority streak in them.  For example, even giving orders to his subordinates grated on Wilson.  In the Intelligence field, he had fewer people who worked for him.  But because Wilson had an uncanny ability to “see” the whole picture from only a few disparate pieces of information, he was successful.

People can adapt to their job if they try or they can be lucky.  Better sometimes to be lucky like Wilson – the anti-authority leader.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “The Anti-Authority Leader

  1. Mikka Solarno

    I especially enjoyed this article. Passed it along to some of my co-workers and they are now fans of Gen. Satterfield’s leadership page.

  2. Eric Coda

    Excellent article on a rare subject. One we simply don’t hear enough about. How to deal with the cognitive dissonance that it causes is one of those human problems we are slow to understand or resolve.

  3. Georgie B.

    I think they call this “bucking the system” where you rebel against the stupid stuff in an organization. Call us an “anti-authority” leader or a “rebel” but the bottom-line is that good leaders don’t take a bunch of bullshit off folks that don’t know any better.

  4. Kenny Foster

    Leadership means you are devoted to the idea, 24/7/365 and not just during working hours. Too many leaders believe they can do what they want, anytime they want as long as it is during ‘off-duty’ hours. This is not so. Leadership is a lifestyle. Either you buy into it totally or you will never be a good leader. My opinion.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Too many folks have no idea what leadership is about or why even it exists. We will never convince them otherwise, Kenny. Well written. Thanks.

  5. Greg Heyman

    I’m probably one of these anti-authority leaders myself. All my career there has been tension between me doing my job as a team leader and being a follower. There is a long-line of senior leaders who say that to be a good leader you must also be a good follower. There is merit to this but it does not remove the tension between those two roles.

  6. Scotty Bush

    Excellent. Made me THINK. I was originally unclear where you were going with this idea but now that I’ve thought about it, it makes a lot of sense.

  7. Lynn Pitts

    I’m a bit like this – or so I’m told. I like being a leader in the US Marines but I also don’t always like being told what to do. Being told what to do by idiots or know-nothings really gets to me.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      I know what you mean, Lynn. The idea that someone who is your boss (or organizational superior) can give you orders to do something that they are not educated or experienced on, can be repugnant. I had a boss like that when I first started working in a local department store when I was a teenager.

  8. Harry Donner

    Very interesting view on how some leaders have a personality that is not exactly a good fit, yet they can not just succeed but accomplish a lot. I’ll keep that in mind.

  9. Gil Johnson

    Not to be confused with anti-AUTHORITARIAN leaders who reject dictators and other unelected officials. Anti-AUTHORITY leaders are those who reject much of the negative parts of leadership when the leader is insufficiently trained or inadequate experience.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Good point, I read it wrong when I first noted the headline. Thanks for pointing this out. Careful reading is a must.

    2. Jerry C. Jones

      Yes, be careful. The English language is full of traps like you’ve noted here.

      1. Wilson Cox

        Thanks Jerry. All thumbs up about your English comment.

  10. Army Captain

    Sometimes I feel as if I am also an anti-authority leader.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Good to see you on this weekend, Army Captain. Must be one of the few days off you have. I was in the US Navy many decades ago and found that my days working were not a Mon to Fri type of job, nor was it 9 to 5 like so many wish to have. Thanks for your service.

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