When is the last time that you spoke up at work about something that you felt was wrong or refused to comply with what your boss told you do because it felt wrong?. How many instances have we watched a scene play out on TV where people stood back doing nothing when apparently there was immoral conduct going on? Have you ever witnessed racism or discrimination play out in a meeting and sat back in shock but did nothing? We all have. Throughout your life, you may continue to struggle to do the right thing when what you are told to do may be wrong.
Ira Chaleff’s book Intelligent Disobedience – Doing Right When What You’re Told Is Wrong is a book leaders should read. Sometimes we forget that there is a time and a place to step up and say no to a situation. So many tragedies could have been prevented if someone just dared to object or disobey orders. Ira offers a compelling analogy for when there are times it’s necessary to defy. Consider a guide dog. The dog is trained to understand yet resist a command that may hurt or kill its owner. Consider a blind woman that gives her dog a command to walk across the street. A well-trained dog will resist and refuse if he feels there is a danger. Sometimes we all need an inner guide dog to help us operate in a culture or situation where we are accountable for our actions even when we are instructed to “just follow orders”.
From an early age, we are taught to respect our elders and do what they tell us to do. Schools socialize us early on to sit in our chairs and be compliant and obedient. Don’t question, don’t talk back, do as you are told. Sadly, this follows us as we mature and the expectations are no different when we become employees. We “know” that we should do as we are told. Often, we are punished when we speak up even when it is the right thing to do. Few of us will rock the boat. Time and time again history has shown us how tragedies could have been prevented had someone spoke up. We live in different times where the moto is “see something, say something”.
Ira shares numerous examples and case studies that are shocking. They illustrate how humans will stand back in some situations and do nothing even though they know it is wrong. His stories are wake up calls. We need to find a healthy balance in our lives for functioning within a system of rules and expectations while being true to ourselves and be responsible for speaking up when we see something that is wrong. Just sitting back and not doing the “right thing” is no longer an option. We need to instill a sense of Intelligent Disobedience and act on it.
Effective leaders will guide their teams to learn and practice Intelligent Disobedience. Here are some starting points to consider
• Identify certain risks and be willing to train people to give appropriate responses. Encourage alternative measures or correct violations by encouraging people to speak up.
• Train people to question the phases of obedience. These include cooperation, strain, divergence, divergence amplification or education, and how to do the right thing.
• Inform people that the earlier they question, the better.
• The process can be done with politeness but may need people to become more assertive.
• Orientate new employees about Intelligent Disobedience.
• Support people when they do the right thing and share their experience with others.
• Encourage, validate, and encourage people to do something even if it may go against the norm.
Intelligent Disobedience is a book that all leaders should read. Servant leaders lead from the bottom up and should train and encourage their people to do the right thing even when it may be perceived as the “wrong thing” to do. We should empower our people to think before blindly following “orders” or policies. We should push people to do what is right without the fear of repercussions. Most of all we need to offer our people the tools and training to take the first step in standing up.