You may be asking yourself, "Where is he going with this one?" In the post from a few days ago titled Followership, we covered the issue of speaking truth to power. But is it enough just to speak it, or do you have to actually be successful at it? How far can and should you push your point of view?
In the movie The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker portrayed Ugandan President Idi Amin in a story about a young Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), who was bored with the family practice at home so he travels to Uganda, and as fate would have it, meets Amin. Impressed by the young doctor, Amin asks him to be his personal physician. Nicholas welcomes his new position.
As the confidant/client relationship grew over time, Amin would consult with Nicholas on a broad range of matters. (Here's where it gets interesting). There is a terrific portion of the film when Nicholas is consulted about whether to expel the Asians from Uganda, and he strongly urges against it. Amin dismisses his advice, moves forward despite Nicholas' counsel, and the results are as disastrous as Nicholas had predicted.
Following the debacle, Amin was enraged at Nicholas, blaming him for the failure. A stunned Nicholas replied, "I told you NOT to do it." To which Amin responded, "Yes, but you failed to convince me." It was a scene that left Nicholas and the audience in stunned silence.
This may sound a bit twisted, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Amin had a point. There's a lesson here. Could Nicholas have really stopped Amin from doing what he wanted to do? In that situation, probably not. In Nicholas' defense I thought he made a pretty strong case. However, under many circumstances one CAN effect change in high stakes situations if they truly care enough to do so.
It's not enough to speak truth to power in a "check off the box," CYA sort of way. If you're going to bother to speak the truth; if you're going to truly put yourself on the line for the good of your client, then know what will move your audience and make your case in a manner that is compelling and convincing. Act with the same level of conviction as if the fate of your own company hangs in the balance.
I should confess that The Last King of Scotland metaphor may not be the best example. It doesn't actually work out too well for Amin or Nicholas. I'm banking on the fact that your client is no Idi Amin, and you will bring better judgment to the table than young Dr. Garrigan.