The Bigger Picture of Engaging in Intelligent Disobedience

Posted on August 6, 2009

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

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