Officially the military demands respect for superiors. Realistically, you can get away with almost anything as long as you tack a “Sir” on the end of it. Bernard of Clairvaux might agree. A French Abbot in the 1100s, Bernard wrote Five Books on Consideration: Advice to a Pope after his former monk became Pope Eugene III. Many passages begin with abjectly humble “I would never presume to direct your majesty” statements, switch to scorching harangues on the Pope’s failings, ego, and misplaced priorities, then sweetly drop a few more respectful endearments before moving on.
While intended for spiritual purposes, the text contains meaty bits for anyone in leadership or management as well:
“It is a monstrous thing for the highest office to be filled with a man of the lowest character, for the first place to be occupied by a man fit for the last, for the tongue to be eloquent but the hand idle, for the talk to abound but results to be lacking, for the face to be grave but behavior capricious, for great authority to be vested in a man of faltering stability. Bring a mirror and let a dirty face recognize itself. Be glad your face is not like this. Even though there are things which you can justly be pleased with, look at yourself closely and see if there is anything which ought to displease you. I want you to glory in the testimony of your conscience, but I also want you to be humbled by it. Rarely can a person say, ‘I hold nothing against myself.’ You walk more cautiously among the good if your bad points do not lie hidden. Therefore, as I have said, know yourself, so that in the midst of these present difficulties you may draw comfort from a good conscience, but even more so that you may know your deficiencies. For who is not deficient? They are totally deficient who think they are in no way deficient…Who is supreme? The man to whom nothing can be added. You are in serious error if you think you are that man.”
“For the rest, it is my wish that you strive to be supreme, not to think you are supreme or to wish to be thought so before you are. For how will you make progress if you are already satisfied with yourself? Accordingly, do not be reluctant to discover your deficiencies or ashamed to acknowledge them.”
– Five Books on Consideration: Advice to a Pope by Bernard of Clairvaux, p. 64,65