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.