My Client is Happy – Oh No! – An Intelligent Disobedience Story

Posted on June 21, 2018

The client is happy, the budget-minders are happy and the team is happy as things have been working well for three years. That disturbed Julia, because they were conducting their business incorrectly!

Why would Julia take action which would upset happy stakeholders? Because she values her client, supports integrity and won’t do anything that compromises her principles. Her client was misguided, and even though they were happy, they were not supporting their customers appropriately.

Julia was the technical administrator for a benefits administration outsourcing management company. Upon taking on a new client, she quickly realized that her new stakeholders were administering a benefit incorrectly. Rather than granting a benefit up to three times the highest salaried team member in each role, her client and the insurance team had misinterpreted the benefits contract to provide a benefit up to three times the salary of each employee, shortchanging all but the highest paid individual in each job role.

Julia could have “ignored this”, but quickly realized that wasn’t the “right thing to do”. Pointing this out to her company and the client and trying to implement a correction caused significant angst, and required persistence as managers needed to recognize they and their teams had erroneously administered their benefits. That is not where Julia’s intelligent disobedience ended, however. Once the error was acknowledged and it was agreed that a systems correction was needed, the consensus was the correction should be made in eight months, at the next benefits contract renewal. The rationale for this delay was to minimize system changes and reduce the visibility of the prior error being made. As this could have an impact on some beneficiaries, this delay in correcting the situation was not acceptable to Julia. Again, she engaged in a lone-wolf persistence campaign and got the system changed without delay.

Julia is a hero of intelligent disobedience.

This story emphasizes a number of factors. First, while intelligent disobedience frequently involves breaking rules, sometimes ensuring rules are followed is center stage. Second, the authenticity of an individual to his/her’s values frequently is the motivation for business improvement, or in this case, a business doing the right thing.

To learn more about incorporating intelligent disobedience into your leadership practices or the practices of your leadership team visit You can also order the new Intelligent Disobedience: The Difference Between Good and Great Leaders book by Bob McGannon from the publisher at or via Amazon.