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.