On this date in 1836, the Republic of Texas was declared at Washington-on-the-Brazos, a small town near modern day Brenham, Texas, with the approval of the Texas Declaration of Independence. It was declared one day after the formal invocation of the Republic of Texas Congress. On March 1, the delegates assigned George Childress to lead a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. Childress and the committee submitted its draft within a mere 24 hours later and it was approved on this date with no debate. The Republic of Texas Declaration of Independence was based primarily on the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, the declaration proclaimed that the Mexican government “ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived” and complained about “arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny”. While historians have long speculated that Childress arrived at Congress with most of the Declaration previously drafted, it was this declaration that officially established the Republic of Texas. His story helps understand why being a great subordinate is a key.

Childress died only four years later in 1840. A county in west Texas is named in his memory. I thought Childress’s contribution to Texas independence and Texas history was an excellent introduction to today’s topic. I often write about Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) leadership, business leadership and ethical leadership. Yet equally important to leadership are those who implement those solutions, the subordinates. Most of us are not the boss, the foreman, the supervisor or the leader. We work on a team headed by someone else. This makes the role of a subordinate in any organization critical, including a corporate compliance function.

Isabel Berwick, in a Financial Times (FT) On management column piece entitled “How to be a first-rate subordinate”, bemoaned there was little guidance on how to be a great subordinate. She was considering this having recently been promoted to a team lead position at the FT. With her promotion, she realized that “While a manager feels responsible for the team, and is often freighted with the stress of managing upwards as well as down, pure subordinates do not need to bother with all that.” Yet with this liberation, there are some concrete things that a subordinate can bring for the manager they work for or report to.

The first for a subordinate is to try and find a balance between how much time they spend on helping the team succeed and our own individual needs. She noted, “We may instinctively want to support peers by helping with a heavy workload or covering for people who are ill.” I have certainly been on teams where several of us banded together to cover from a poor performer or help someone get caught up. However it becomes a little more difficult “when those stressful situations are symptomatic of bad management. It can be miserable and confusing to be at the bottom of the team pile.”

Her second insight was around the relationship of the manager and the subordinate. Who is responsible for the success of that relationship? Many subordinates like myself would have opined this is solely the responsibility of the manager because it is in their job duty. Indeed Berwick said that some managers were “absolutely adamant that responsibility flows entirely from the top down. They tell us what to do and we do it. Our productivity and wellbeing is their responsibility.”

However an important insight from Berwick was that everyone has a part to play in team management; both managers and subordinates, particularly as she noted, “those of us who manage both up and down — have a part to play in making relationships work” This is not simply what she termed,  “a common managerial fantasy” of team members telling the boss how great he or she is.

Berwick was adamant that this is not simply buttering up to the boss, as she believes managers need honesty from their subordinates as much as subordinates need honesty from their managers. She stated, “They need honesty. A good subordinate, one wise person told me, is engaged with their work, with the team and with the wider aims of the company — but is not afraid to tell the boss what is really going on in the ranks. Even when that is bad.” She conceded this is “Easier said than done, perhaps, but this is surely the right aspiration. We subordinates just have to be careful not to frame it as a problem. Managers really, really hate problems.”

There is quite a bit packed into Berwick’s piece, for both a CCO and the compliance professional. For any CCO you may want to not simply reconsider the structure of your approach to management but move towards what Dun & Bradstreet CCO Louis Sapirman has called a “360-degree approach” to communications. In this approach you are continually communicating and receiving communications back from your employees.

Another approach might be to meet with your team members individually to seek their input. They may have some ideas that would help you to implement your goals more efficiently or more thoroughly. It may take some time to tease this type of information out of a subordinate but if you can develop that level of trust, it could go along way towards not only making you a better CCO or manager but also making your corporate compliance function more robust. But it will take work and perhaps even a change of attitude.

For the subordinate, there is also some responsibility not simply to whine and moan but to put forward suggestions and ideas that move the function forward. It is a two-way street of responsibility and properly invoked it can make the entire organization stronger.

I have worked at very hierarchical organizations, yet my manager was open to new ideas. After his promotion, I worked for a manager who brooked no input with a swift “my-way or the highway”. As a subordinate, I certainly understood which manager valued my input and me more. If you put in place some of the ideas set forth by Berwick, it could make you a better manager.

Next week we will Remember the Alamo and its relationship to compliance.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2018