When Breaking the Rules is the Intelligent Thing to Do

You have promised your manager you would follow the rules, and you have spent time understanding your business’ processes. So when exactly is breaking those promises and disobeying the rules or disregarding those processes the intelligent thing to do? Here are a few characteristics of intelligently disobedient acts:

Intelligently disobedient acts are performed to achieve better business outcomes. If the action you are contemplating is to achieve a business outcome that you  believe is necessary, but that perception is not shared by your management team, it will probably not be considered “intelligent.” In this case, the appropriate intelligently disobedient act would be to engage your management  team in conversations to change their views on business success, rather than try to achieve outcomes that would not be appreciated.

Second, if your proposed action represents opposition to widely accepted norms or corporate culture, you will want to perform “homework” to validate your views. Make sure you have your facts laid out. That being said, it should be noted that we at Intelligent Disobedience Leadership also encourage ID activities based on intuition.  However, you should present those ideas as having their basis on intuition and share the activities you propose to take to validate your intuitive thought.

The third guide for intelligent acts of ID is understanding the implications of:

  • not engaging in an act of ID,
  • discomfort that may surface in your organization should you act, and
  •  resistance that may surface as a result of any process or decision                         making you circumvent.

In short, understand any power shifts that may result from your proposed act of ID. Once you understand these implications, you can engage in stakeholder management activities to ensure your ID action will be viewed as an intelligent one.

The last type of intelligent action is one that may not be evaluated as intelligent by others. However, it may be the most significant form of intelligent disobedience. This is when an action is taken to protect your integrity or the integrity of your business. There are spectacular instances where these acts were not performed; the VW fuel emissions testing and the Wells Fargo unwanted account creation are examples. Undoubtedly, there was significant pressure to keep these activities hidden. In the end, the hardship for many people involved in these scandals was not avoided; instead it was amplified and only temporarily postponed. Confirming the intelligence of taking action to preserve one’s integrity must come from within yourself, in the confidence of knowing you preserved what is “right” from your own personal moral standpoint.

Before considering the intelligence of a potential act of ID, be aware that what constitutes an act of ID in one environment, may be commonplace in another. While bending or breaking a rule in one business to achieve a better outcome may be considered intelligent in one environment, it could flag the opposite reaction in another. For example, care should be given when considering an act of intelligent disobedience in highly regulated businesses.  Discusssing your potential ID action with a trusted colleague is a great way to “test the waters” as access if your ID act is intelligent.

The Intelligent Disobedience Leadership team hope you never have to consider ID actions in the face of significant questions of integrity. However, in addition to our workshops on Intelligent Disobedience, we also coach individuals who are grappling with questions around the acts of intelligent disobedience they are considering. Often, they involve the integrity of a product or business process, rather than acts that deceive customers or artificially inflate financial statements. No matter what the circumstance, we are here to support individuals and groups who are looking to improve their performance, and the performance of their teams through the pragmatic and successful use of intelligent disobedience. Contact us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com.

Bob McGannon’s new book, Intelligent Disobedience: The Difference Between Good and Great Leaders, published by Routledge (Oxford), will be published in March 2018. Contact us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com and we will let you know when and where the book is available for purchase.

Intelligent Disobedience – A Means of Avoiding Remorse

Remorse is lasting. It is the conclusion of an emotional path starting with apprehension, then fear, emptiness, and finally remorse. This emotional pathway is launched in several ways, including:

  • Taking a course of action you believe is unproductive or detrimental.
  • Standing on the sidelines and watching something fall short of expectations.
  • Failing to follow through on a strong, intuitive thought.
  • Supporting or taking an action that compromises your integrity.

The timing of the journey through the emotional path to remorse can progress quickly. Other times it takes many months. However, each story or situation ends the same way, with remorse as an emotional burden that isn’t easily discarded.

The good news is wisely deploying intelligent disobedience can spare you from traversing this unhappy pathway.

Interestingly enough, your intelligent disobedience doesn’t have to succeed to avoid this emotional trap. Action and positive intent is the anecdote to remorse. People rarely express remorse over actions they undertook with positive intent, even if those actions failed to provide the desired end result. Falling short of achieving the right outcome might create regrets, but those are temporary and something we can quickly learn from. You can take solace from “trying to do what was right.”

There are four elements to ensuring your intelligently disobedient remorse remedy works as planned:

Trust your intuition – Your intuitive thoughts should be translated into meaningful action, the rationale for which you can explain to others. To follow through on your intuition, start by validating assumptions. If you can validate, activate!

Accepting short term discomfort for long term results – Taking action to avoid remorse often will make things uncomfortable! After all, intelligent disobedience involves bending rules, breaking rules or performing acts that are unusual or against the grain of expected behavior. If you are to avoid remorse, you have to be prepared to accept short term scrutiny.

Exchange information to guide your outcome – Share your views, and understand why you feel as you do. Ask questions of others, and listen intensely. Information breeds understanding, and understanding is paramount to navigating issues wisely, generating intended outcomes.

Tap into your moral compass – Taking action you don’t believe in, or not taking action when you feel something needs to change is the seed for remorse. Explore your gut for ethics triggers -and, like intuition – follow what your body and mind tell you.

You can vanquish remorse from your work life if you recognize the start of the remorse journey, and act intently to change outcomes you may otherwise carry as a long term burden.

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com. 

An Intelligent Disobedience Qualification Guide – Part 1 “Disobedience”

The Intelligent Disobedience Leadership team are often asked if a specific action qualifies as an act of Intelligent Disobedience (ID). The question is a good one, as what can constitute an act of ID in one environment, may be commonplace in another. Challenging a manager is a good example; in some environments this is expected and encouraged, while in others it definitely would be considered “disobedient.”

So, to help those of you who have asked us if something is an act of intelligent disobedience, or are wondering if an action you are considering might be an act of Intelligent Disobedience, here is a guide, starting with the concept of “disobedience.”

First and foremost, if what you are considering is a commonplace activity or behavior in your business, it’s probably not an act of disobedience, and you likely could take action without hesitation. However, you may want to note the topics or areas where the activity is commonplace, and areas where your proposed activity is not typically performed. If you venture into these untested areas, I would suggest doing some analysis homework, as your action could be considered “disobedience” and you will want to be sure it is received positively.

Second, if your proposed action challenges or circumvents the common “chain of command” in your organization, what you are considering is very likely an act of disobedience. Management responsibilities that are challenged outside of “the process” are often taken personally, or as a public criticism, so I would suggest you proceed with caution. The typical recommendation in this case is to take your concern to the manager(s) in the traditional chain of command first, and only circumvent if a positive result is not achieved, or the moral or legal nature of the concern makes addressing the traditional management chain inappropriate.

The third type of action which can be perceived as disobedient is to “go against the flow”, that is, to oppose a standard process during a meeting, or propose a counter argument to a widely held belief. This can raise concerns for a number of people, particularly those that are very process minded, or are uncomfortable with change. Many people can become opponents with this form of disobedience, so it is advisable to gather facts and potentially poll others before voicing your dissenting view.

The last common type of disobedience is the most direct – when you decide to not follow your manager’s direction or you purposefully and intentionally divert from the steps of a mandated business process. This type of disobedience can be the most controversial, but also the most effective when the desired business result is achieved.

With these and any other form of potential disobedience, it is imperative that you do your homework. Understand your environment, your objectives, and your manager’s objectives. These preparatory actions are a significant part of making your action “intelligently” disobedient.

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com. 

An Intelligent Disobedience Failure Story

The use of Intelligent Disobedience is not guaranteed. Successful intelligent disobedience requires doing your homework and understanding the cultures and regulations of the business in which you are working. It also often means you should not “go it alone.” Here is a story of an intelligent disobedience failure from which we all can learn…

A manager with “positive intent” for his business violated the standard approval process before spending money with a vendor to obtain some IT hardware. He did this because it was close to the end of year holidays, and key senior management personnel were absent. He had email confirmations from the leaders affirming his intention to buy the hardware, but all of the signatures on purchase agreements required by his company were not obtained. If he bought the hardware before the year end, the business would save a considerable amount of money. So, thinking the emails were sufficient to allow him to act, he executed a purchase agreement to obtain the hardware.

Once the senior leaders returned from their holidays, they learned of the purchase that was made in violation of process and counseled the offending manager. Although they recognized his positive intent, he got his wrist slapped and was told not to do this again.

About 6 months later, a critical business area urgently needed some technical support, so – again with positive intent – the manager reacted quickly and arranged for specialist technical support to attend to the matter. He figured it would be ok to get the purchase authorization signatures later. What he actually got “later” was removed from his job for a repeat violation of spending authorization procedures.

You might pass judgment on this, saying it was not a good move to dismiss the well intended manager. That is for each of us to decide on our own. The point to be learned here is this…it is not “intelligent” disobedience when you poke the bull in a sensitive spot, twice, without help! Here is what I mean by this statement:

  • In the first instance, the manager was doing what he thought best, not expecting the management team to react by counseling him. He “poked the bull” in a sensitive spot and it threatened to charge, despite the fact he was trying to help.
  • In the second instance, he also thought he was doing what was right for the business. However, he was “poking the bull” in the SAME sensitive spot” and expected a different result!

Now, I am too enthusiastic about using intelligent disobedience to simply say he should not have “poked the bull” the second time. My concern is that he DID IT ALONE. Before taking that action, he should have learned from his first experience and rallied to get some specific senior management support before violating the procurement process a second time. Instead, he went it alone; he poked the bull…and the bull charged…predictably.

It can be ok to take a “second run” at a sensitive area, the key to “intelligent” disobedience is to rally support if you can, or escalate the sensitivity of the business issue you are trying to tackle with the “powers that be.” Before taking an action that stretches or violates the rules.

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com. 

Want to be Innovative? Think baby steps!

Innovation is becoming a hot topic at the moment, so naturally we want to apply an “intelligent disobedience” spin on this important aspect of business improvement. Our take – forget the big idea, think small!

For many, innovation conjures up the notion of “big ideas” that create drastic changes in the business environment. Although that is true, many “innovations” actually come about through small or notional ideas. Consider Facebook for instance – a huge innovative concept that has changed the way many people communicate. Yet it started with a very “small” idea – putting up pictures of Harvard University students for comparison purposes, and later, as a means of creating a community and to simplify contacting students at the University. All in all, a rather limited idea, don’t you think?

So, if you want to be innovative, look at small improvements to products, easily containable projects that can quickly provide value, or seek to solve that annoying problem that “everyone” talks about in your business, but nobody seems to get around to addressing. These small improvement possibilities provide a readily available source for innovation that is within the grasp of many people in the typical business. Let the “baby step”, the smaller idea, grow into bigger ideas through the “force of common sense” and by making a small aspect of your business or your customer’s business, easier to navigate.

As these ideas grow, true disruptive innovation can come about if they are managed appropriately. The scope of the simple idea needs to remain simple however, even when applied to larger business areas. The excitement the idea might generate could catch the attention of senior management. This is great news, but can be a dual edged sword. This management excitement needs to be nurtured with care. Failing to manage this executive enthusiasm can create a risk where the simple idea can morph into something complicated, losing its appeal.

This nurturing of ideas in a bigger context, called Innovation Management, is a discipline that can be implemented via repeatable processes.

Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at info@intelligentdisobedience.com.