Elementary school taught us, “What is right is not always popular, but we must stand up for what we believe is right and be strong.”
With all of the recent anonymous journalism on the Internet and in print, it seems corporate American culture has erased the idea of personal bravery from our short-term memories. We were all once taught this lesson of courage in elementary school, but it appears so many of us think it’s fine and even heroic to stand up for what we believe in while hiding beneath our desk as “Anonymous.”
In May 2018, an alleged Air Force Colonel under the pseudonym “Colonel Ned Stark” published his/her complaints about the Air Force officer promotion process via this article at War on the Rocks. It was shared throughout the Air Force officer community, and many hailed his/her ideas as discussion-worthy at the very least. Some made statements such as “This guy [or gal] is my hero.” We don’t know anything about Colonel Ned Stark, other than that he or she chose to hide behind anonymity.
Then last week, an anonymous writer contributed to the New York Times Opinions section with this article expressing how much he disliked the culture at his job under the President. He or she made bold statements about his or her boss, such as, “Anyone who works for him knows […]” It must be easy to speak for everyone else when you can’t speak for yourself.
But this side-rant isn’t aimed at the anonymous authors. This is aimed at corporate and cultural America, most of which thinks these anonymous writers are heroes for speaking up while staying anonymous. Regardless of politics, every American should have recognized these anonymous writers for what they really are: weaksauce. If you want to play the hero, you have to have a backbone. Trying to voice a strong dissenting opinion while hiding under your desk is childish, no matter the level of responsibility.
When the pseudonym “Colonel Ned Stark” published this article about Air Force values, the pessimistic Air Force-for-lifers jumped back onto the bandwagon of “This guy [or gal] is my hero” all over social media. I have to call out the hypocrisy. Here’s a guy (again, or gal–we’ll never know for sure) who posits himself or herself as an heroic individual offering a dissenting opinion regarding the state of the Air Force, but he or she continues to do so anonymously.
Here’s a fact: nobody disagrees with you, Colonel Ned Stark. Nobody disagrees with you or your thoughts. And you know that–that’s why you continue to write. I agree with your ideas, and have some of my own on how to improve the Air Force–that’s what this Rip Red Tape blog and movement are about: ridding organizations of their own self-inflicted constraints that thwart positive culture. But I challenge you to stand up for yourself and the organization you love by speaking as a private citizen who happens to be a Colonel regarding ways in which your organization can improve. Throw the weight of your true identity behind your recommendations.
Before the haters ask me (as they already have), “Oh really, dude? Have you ever offered a strong dissenting opinion,” let me say this: Hell yes. I have always offered my strong, dissenting opinions with my name attached proudly to them.
When deployed under toxic leadership, I told my leadership directly, behind closed doors, how and why I believed they were fostering a toxic work environment. And I dealt with the consequences. Can you imagine the effects of instead releasing an anonymous letter railing against a known target? That would have been borderline cowardice. As a sophomore cadet at the Air Force Academy, I invited the renowned athetist journalist Christopher Hitchens to campus on behalf of a cadet organization, and when he was denied access by the Chaplain Corps due to his atheist beliefs (in violation of academic freedom as well as the Constitution), I spoke up humbly and attached my name to my thoughts as a private citizen. And at this moment, I’ve created this blog which houses thoughts on how the Air Force and organizations can improve their processes and culture. And I’ve done it with my true identity attached to it as a private citizen who cares about organizational wellness. To do anything else would be to forget the lessons I learned about courage, bravery, and hypocrisy as a child, a cadet, and young military officer:
If you have something to say, say it with pride and confidence. There’s no hide-and-seek in the realm of leadership.
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