Obedience to Authority

Obedience to authority is the tendency people have to try to please those in charge.

Psychological evidence indicates that people tend to respect and follow those whom they perceive to have legitimate authority. This can lead to trouble if it causes people to fail to exercise their own independent ethical judgment.

Most people can anticipate their superiors’ desires and may act to please them even without being explicitly asked. For example, when Toshiba needed to inflate its earnings, implicit pressure from top officers was sufficient to induce division managers to misreport their earnings.

Likewise, when Lance Armstrong, leader of his cycling team, signaled that the team needed to dope in order to successfully compete, his supporting riders quickly complied.

So, a willingness to follow instructions is generally a good thing. But blind obedience to those in charge can have unfortunate consequences when leaders lack ethical conviction themselves.