The Incriminating Coffee Table – An Intelligent Disobedience Story

Posted on September 6, 2018

Janine recently proved that anyone in an organization can execute intelligent disobedience, given the proper support. Janine is an office administrator for a financial advisory firm on the east coast of the US, which recently moved to a new office facility. She served as a coordinator for the move. Part of her responsibilities was to coordinate the distribution of old furniture they would not be using in their new facility. The partners in the firm had first choice, as the owners of the furniture assets.

Janine set an agreed-to deadline for the partners to claim any furniture they wanted for themselves, prior to the staff making requests. Well after the deadline had passed, Judy, one of the office support staff, claimed and took home a small coffee table. That’s when things got interesting.

Calvin, one of the partners who was well known for having a surly attitude, saw the table was no longer in the office and said he wanted the table for a relative who was going away to college in the next couple of days. When told the deadline had passed and that Judy had borrowed her brother’s truck and taken the table home, Calvin instructed Janine to tell Judy to bring the table back to the office.

Janine decided it was time for intelligent disobedience, as she had no intention of fulfilling Calvin’s very selfish request.  Janine did talk to Judy however so she was aware of what was happening. Judy tried to convince Janine otherwise, saying she would bring the table back that evening as her brother was taking his truck on vacation the next day. Janine saw an opportunity. She told Judy to forget that she talked to her, and under no circumstances was she to bring the table back.

Janine then talked to two of the other partners in the firm, sharing the story and sharing how she intended to handle the situation. The next day, Janine told Calvin that Judy would give up the coffee table, but had no means to transport it as her brother was on holiday for the next two weeks. Janine told Calvin that Judy was happy to make the table available so he could pick it up himself. In doing so, Janine put Calvin in a bit of a lose-lose situation.

As Calvin and the firm’s accountant never saw eye-to-eye, spending the firm’s money to hire a truck would only create issues for Calvin. He was faced with giving up the table, or very visibly showing his selfish attitude with a staff member, for the sake of an old coffee table that probably wasn’t worth $100. Nothing happened for two weeks, when, at the coaxing of the other partners, Calvin instructed Janine to tell Judy she could keep the table.

Reasonability won out, the partners were given an example topic to discuss how they, collectively, should be treating their staff members, and Janine was applauded by the other partners for the way she handled the situation.


The Intelligent Disobedience Leadership team hope you don’t have to deal with this kind of selfishness. However, we do have the means to help with this, and other leadership situations. In addition to our workshops on Intelligent Disobedience, we also coach individuals who are grappling with acts of intelligent disobedience they are considering. 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 Bob McGannon’s book, Intelligent Disobedience: The Difference Between Good and Great Leaders, published by Routledge (Oxford), is available from Routledge and on Amazon.