Business Monday

CEOs prefer balance when dealing with a defiant employee

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was dismissed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 30, following her instruction to the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s immigration-related executive order in court.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was dismissed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 30, following her instruction to the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s immigration-related executive order in court. AP, File

This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: If an employee defied you as [former] Acting Attorney General Sally Yates did to President Donald Trump, how would you respond?


If in a situation of an act of employee defiance, I would take the time to carefully consider my options for appropriately addressing the situation. If it became clear to me that the employee’s lack of respect and defiant behavior were likely to persist and/or be a hindrance to the success of the organization, I would have no choice but to terminate the individual’s employment. I believe people on both sides of such situations need to find a way to work with each other. With that said, it is better to address dysfunction early rather than allow for disrespect, turbulence, and lack of cohesion within the workplace.

Donna Abood, principal and managing director, Avison Young


I believe that Ms. Yates is a principled defender of what is right and she considered resigning but didn’t want her successor to face the same dilemma. If my employees confronted me, challenging my authority on a direct lawful order, I believe I would have no choice but to ask for their resignation or let them go.

Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director, The Commonwealth Institute South Florida


A real leader empowers people to express disagreements and encourages them to be honest with their opinions. One interesting distinction between an employee and an Acting Attorney General is that the latter is duty-bound to uphold the Constitution and equitably protect the Constitutional rights and principles woven through the fabric that has made our imperfect society great. It is often a destructive arrogance that places a leader in the position of having to respond to a colleague’s public disagreement. I would not knowingly place myself in such a position.

Albert E. Dotson Jr., partner, Bilzin Sumberg


If an employee defied me, depending on the severity of the issue and its residual effect on the Council for Educational Change, I would either reprimand and/or discharge the employee. If an employee disagreed with my actions, I would expect the employee to communicate with me prior to making any public comment that could jeopardize the organization or its mission. We can agree to disagree in private; however in public, we must speak with the same voice. If the employee adamantly refused to deliver the company message, he or she has the option of resigning.

Elaine Liftin, president and executive director, Council for Educational Change


At TotalBank, a major component of our business model fosters front-line employees with a high level of independent decision-making ability. Utilizing this business model means that those employees will never make the exact same decision as I might 100 percent of the time. Therefore, it is the role of senior leadership to set the vision for the company and trust the judgment of team members that are executing every day. At the same time, this needs to be balanced with respect for the company’s chain of command, and insubordination would be addressed with appropriate disciplinary action.

Jay Pelham, president, TotalBank


Matters such as this really speak to the trust and relationship established between a leader and their subordinates. For instance, at the university level, a comparable relationship would be between a president and a dean. If a dean made a decision that was in opposition to a directive or policy, I would first examine myself to determine how I may have influenced the situation and why a dean would not feel comfortable addressing me about the issue first. Essentially, I believe accountability is critically important and that we must understand ourselves and those we are working with, particularly, those who have high levels of responsibility.

Larry Rice, president, Johnson & Wales University North Miami Campus


First, it is important to note that our work and the work of the attorney general are at two different levels. Every situation with an employee is unique, but if an employee defies a direct order, the first step is to question the employee and see if there is any merit to his or her decision. If there isn’t, then the employee will likely be terminated.

Alex Rodriguez-Roig, president, Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade


I would prevent this situation from ever arising by meeting first to discuss a major policy change affecting so many.

John Tanzella, president and CEO, International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association


The situation with the Acting Attorney General was different from a private employer/employee relationship. The Attorney General’s responsibility above all is to faithfully execute the law and Constitution, not simply do what the President orders. As I understand it, Sally Yates felt the Executive Order imposing the travel ban only from Muslim countries was not legal, violated the Constitution and therefore, she was duty-bound not to enforce it. Therefore, if I had an employee who thought those certain actions might be a violation of the law, I would listen to the explanation and seek further guidance on the issue before firing.

Faith Read Xenos, co-founding partner, Singer Xenos

The Miami Herald CEO Roundtable is a weekly feature that appears in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. Recent questions have included:

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▪ CEOs won’t tolerate ugly comments in the workplace

▪ CEOs assess South Florida’s economy for 2017

▪ Did Obamacare hurt your business? South Florida CEOs respond