The Bigger Picture of Engaging in Intelligent Disobedience

Leadership requires an extraordinary degree of skill and integrity – the ability to know when to intervene, when to teach, when to coach, when to provide feedback and in what venue to provide all of this. Leadership requires very deliberate and thoughtful consideration of those you are trying to lead – versus simply manage. The leader is more of an artist.

And what makes a good artist? Well first, there are those indescribable creative juices flowing from their very being onto the canvas. Inspiration, flashes of insight, conceptual models taking shape with artfully crafted brushworks. To be a good leader you need to draw on sometimes highly personal gut level decisions – when for example in a meeting to directly challenge a powerful senior leader whose new production changes will entirely throw off your budget allocations, or when to tell your highly talented new hire to back off on their new and risky approach for a technical solution. We have to assess our own risk profile against the potential gains to push back with these key business colleagues. The best leaders take these risks – and succeed – on a regular basis.

One of the keys to doing this is to realize that we all look at the world through different lenses. We all have our own truth, and that truth differs from person to person. Understanding that the world is viewed via different lenses, and not just yours, is instrumental in conducting the sensitive conversations we have discussed here, and doing so successfully. Gather a “full set of pictures” through the many “lenses” people bring to the table and rich possibilities of how to proceed can come into focus. So, next time you feel the need to impulsively jump in and state your position, examine it from another person’s point of view.Intelligent Disobedience is NOT about being silent, or holding back your opinions, it is just the opposite – it encourages us to speak up. However, it also encourages us to understand that our approach is not the only way, or the only view to a situation. The Intelligently Disobedient leader does jump in, but only after seeking to look at a situation through the lenses of others in addition to her own.

– Contributed by Elaine Krantz

A Different form of Intelligent Disobedience

Sometimes a sound can trigger the needed reaction!

After delivering a conference keynote on Intelligent Disobedience a delegate approached me to share this story…

As a business analyst at a major hospital, he was frustrated by project sponsorship that wasn’t stepping to the plate to establish priorities for critical staff members so the project team could collect appropriate requirements for what was being called a ”priority one” project. After many attempts at communication with various sponsors to try to rectify this, the team decided demonstrative action was needed. Using all three of the fundamental elements of intelligent disobedience – risk, creativity and persistence – they decided to try one more attempt at communicating the need.

The team took a ”crash cart” – yes one of the hospital rolling carts holding a heart monitor and a defibrillator that was recently repaired and needed to be tested. They rolled it into the hospital’s Board of Directors meeting. One of the project team members had the heart sensors hooked up to himself under his dress shirt and the monitor was working; it was beeping in the normal way as his heart beat. (Well, maybe a little faster than normal, because he was a bit nervous!) The project manager briefly described the problem and when it came to describing the impact on the project, they unplugged the sensors from the monitor, sending it ”flat-lining”, with the accompanying long steady beep tone. That noise alone triggered a reaction with the senior medical personnel that were part of the Board of Directors.

Priorities were then laid out for the needed staff members – the project moved forward to a successful completion. intelligent Disobedience saves the day!

When Political correctness is useful

Political Correctness(PC) in the sense that it is regarded as too prescriptive is often seen as stymieing frank debate. Too many rules on how, or what you can or can not say. And it makes it only too easy to harp on a point of language (saying ‘person’ instead of ‘man’ to indicate generic ‘human’), rather than a point of content (i.e. about what the person is, or should be doing).

This is not to say that language is not important, it is. Language is the first way we express our perceptions, and as the saying goes: “perception is reality”. So if the colour of a person is pertaining to race, why not call the race instead of the colour, so ‘Aboriginal’, rather than ‘Black’? This is not being ‘PC’, this is being clear and unambiguous as well as respectful with language.

So Political Correctness fulfils its function much better than it has been given credit for. Language reflects attitudes in culture, be it an organisational culture or in society at large. The use of terms can embed attitudes, thus perpetuating fixed ideas and prevent them from being re-assessed. In this argument ‘fixed embedded terms’ lead to ‘fixed unmovable minds’.

To keep this argument to a corporate environment, a management system that does not contain policies that identify wanted (PC) behaviour, will lead to unwanted (unPC) behaviour.

This then is an argument for PC Corporate Policies, policies that will not only prescribe wanted behaviour, but then model that behaviour by making sure that all relevant processes and procedures are aligned and measured against those policies, with all processes and procedure to be audited against them annually. And from the very tip of the corporate pyramid, to the very bottom. Good examples make for good following.

Contributed by Marjolein Towler

Let’s Share Stories on Intelligent Disobedience

Welcome to the Intelligent Disobedience blog – designed to help leaders excel by discussing how and when to push back, bend rules (with communication and integrity!) and save our businesses from themselves!

“Intelligent Disobedience” is understanding how and when to “say no” to leaders and influential stakeholders using skills similar in nature to those used by “seeing-eye” and other assistance dogs. All dogs must go through training prior to being certified as assistance dogs, and only those with “intelligent disobedience” capabilities pass muster and become certified. It is the dogs that know when to “disobey their masters” – such as refusing to cross the street when a car is coming – that succeed at becoming seeing-eye dogs. Can you imagine a seeing-eye dog that didn’t possess “Intelligent Disobedience”; venturing into the street because its master commanded him to do so, despite the oncoming car?

Can you imagine a leader diligently pressing forward with a business initiative or a development approach that they believed would fail or be contradictory to organizational objectives? Although the seeing-eye dog story has a more deadly outcome, this latter example occurs with far too great a frequency and the end result could be costing our organizations significant losses in revenue, lack of customer satisfaction, and even integrity issues.

For leaders, “Intelligent Disobedience” is knowing when and how to depart from the norm in opinions, cultural standards, and processes. “Intelligent Disobedience” means understanding the politics of an organization, and maneuvering around the “land mines” that can diminish the effectiveness of the organization – even when those land mines were planted by the organization itself! “Intelligent Disobedience” means having strong beliefs in our business objectives and those of your organization. “Intelligent Disobedience” means taking leadership responsibilities very seriously. It means having courage, fortitude and being determined to do right for your team, yourself and the organization – even in the face of risks. “Intelligent Disobedience” is tough and is vital to ensuring the alignment of company initiatives and projects with organizational objectives, especially in today’s business climate.

With our blog entries, we will discuss the how’s, when’s and why’s of utilizing Intelligent Disobedience – to help you help yourself, your teams, and your business. (And maybe your life outside of work as well!) So, watch this space, share your comments with us, and grow with stories from people who have engaged in real life Intelligent Disobedience, taken the risks, and come out shining!