Intelligent Disobedience

“Intelligent disobedience” allows service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, to interpret commands in a way that honors their master’s intent, while avoiding hazards that their master might not anticipate. For example, imagine a blind person at an intersection who hears an audible beep from the traffic light that tells him it’s safe to walk. He orders his dog to take him across the street, but the dog sees a car about to run that red light. Though trained to obey his master’s commands, the animal is also trained to disobey those commands in an intelligent way when it’s in his master’s best interest to do so.

Have you ever found yourself in a position where following orders would be like walking in front of a car running a red light?

Organizations have a mind of their own, with policies, procedures, rules, and chains of command that help them function. Without such guidelines they wouldn’t be very organized. But sometimes going by the book is the worst thing we can do. Sometimes we have to intelligently disobey what we’re expected to do in order to produce the most desirable outcome for the organization.

The most successful organizations tend to understand that. They realize that as useful as “the book” might be as a management tool, it shouldn’t be a straitjacket. Sometimes people have to think for themselves. Sometimes they have to act on instinct, based on information and insights unavailable to the larger organization, even if it means that they have to intelligently disobey what they are “supposed” to do. Of course, there are also organizations that know nothing beyond “the book.” Yet they too can benefit from intelligent disobedience.

What can you do when you find yourself in one of those tricky situations where you know that going by the book will produce an outcome the opposite of what your employer intends, or it’s just plain unethical? And how can you do it in a way that benefits your organization without destroying your career? How can you learn to challenge strict orders, voice unpopular opinions, take risks, and come up with creative solutions, all while keeping your organization’s goals in mind, and your career (and conscience) intact?

Here’s one resource that can help you answer those tough questions:

Modeling Courageous Leadership: Intelligent Disobedience with Bob McGannon


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Keith Ellis is a best-selling author, elearning specialist, online training mentor, and management training consultant. He is best known as the author of a classic book about setting goals, THE MAGIC LAMP, as well as the thriller, NO SECRETS, an Amazon Kindle #1 best seller. He is Head of Federal Training for, home of the world’s most effective online training.

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