Middle managers may fret over Scooter’s sentence

Libby CNN
Yesterday Scooter Libby was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for his role in the Valerie Plame scandal. Essentially, the court system seems to have found that in spite of Libby’s long record as an attorney, in spite of his key position in the corporate infrastructure of the White House, in spite of the long list of names implicated in the leak of Plame’s name to one of the Administration’s favorite running dogs in the media, it is, in the end, the middle manager who gets the short end of the stick.

Once again, as I have in the past, I am not alleging any impropriety by anybody who might see such allegation as a legal matter that needs adjudication. I have no inside knowledge of the situation. I’m sure the Courts are right, and only Mr. Libby deserves to be locked up for this breach of national security. Those who have read a lot about the situation, and studied it carefully, might not concur, but me? I’m a big fan of the system. Always have been. Glad it worked out for the best, as always.

Still, those of us who take orders for a living have to feel a little bit anxious. I don’t know if anybody has made this observation yet, but in my view, strictly as a faceless bureaucrat who sees himself as a cog in a well-functioning organizational machine, the chance of me going out on a limb and initiating an action on my own like the one Mr. Libby is going to jail for… is nil.

Let me put that another way. People like me, who work inside a reporting structure that we understand and respect, who defer to much more public and powerful figures, may think for ourselves, but we never act for ourselves. We confer. We listen. Hard. And in the end, we execute the decisions that are extruded from the collective will and mind of the group and its leaders.

So excuse us if the incarceration of a functionary makes us a little trembly. We like to think that when we take a scary action in the name of our corporation, we will be protected in some way from the wrath that might follow. As any student of government, businesses or Shakespeare might tell you, however, loyalty flows only one way in the big game.


Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.