Available Now! The Intelligent Disobedience Book


My perspective on leadership changed in a hotel lobby in San Jose, California. I was alone, waiting for the elevator to whisk me to my room after an unusually long workday. A gentleman with a seeing eye guide dog walked up and joined the wait. That was when something extraordinary happened.

An elevator car reached the lobby. A chime announced its arrival and the doors whooshed open. But the elevator had not landed correctly. The car had stopped about eight inches below the floor level, an unexpected and potentially hazardous drop for someone entering the elevator. At the same time, what had been a calm and docile guide dog lept – literally – into action. The seeing eye dog jumped forward and turned his body ninety degrees, creating a barrier between his master and the hazardous elevator car.

I told my fellow elevator rider what had happened to the elevator and described the extraordinary act his dog had just performed. He said that type of action is categorized as Intelligent Disobedience. “I give my dog Chap commands all the time,” he said, “and he faithfully responds. On occasion, however, he doesn’t obey my commands, or even gives commands of his own, as you saw here. I have to tell Chap what I want to do, and, at the same time, I put our safety in his hands. When he disobeys, I obey him!”

I found it interesting that, in this situation, the faithful Chap had not only disobeyed, but also literally presented a hurdle to what his master sought to accomplish.

From that evening forward, I consider the most effective leadership in the context of Intelligent Disobedience.

This book explores various techniques for engaging in intelligent disobedience. It also provides guidance on the types of information you need to assess whether an act of intelligent disobedience will be perceived in a positive light. You will also learn when intelligent disobedience is not a good idea.

My intent is to help you explore intelligent disobedience, while providing tips, techniques and tools for successfully incorporating intelligent disobedience into your business approach. I have made recommendations on how to design acts of intelligent disobedience and how to conduct “research homework” to help increase the probability that your acts of intelligent disobedience will be perceived positively. In addition, I’ve provided techniques for determining whether intelligently disobedient actions could be viable or should be avoided.

Take or leave things as you see fit. Weigh your own appetite for risk, and consider whether your position on certain risks appropriately serves you and your business.

Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong

Torture in Abu Ghraib prison. Corporate fraud. Falsified records at Veterans Administration hospitals. Teachers pressured to feed test answers to students. These scandals could have been prevented if, early on, people had said no to their higher-ups. In this timely new book, Ira Chaleff goes deeply into when and how to disobey inappropriate orders, reduce unacceptable risk, and find better ways to achieve legitimate goals.

The inspiration for the book, and its title, came from a concept used in guide dog training. Guide dogs must be able to recognize a command that would put their human and themselves at risk, effectively resist the command, and identify safer options for achieving the goal. This is precisely what Chaleff shows humans how to do.

He delves into the psychological dynamics of obedience, drawing in particular on what Stanley Milgram’s seminal Yale experiments—in which volunteers were induced to administer shocks to innocent people—teach us about how to reduce compliance with harmful orders. Using dozens of vivid examples of historical events and everyday situations, Chaleff offers advice on judging whether intelligent disobedience is called for, how to effectively express opposition, and how to create a culture where, rather than “just following orders,” citizens are educated and encouraged to think about whether those orders make sense.