The Upside of Disobedience

We're taught from birth to obey -- but a new book makes the case for more disobedience in the workplace.

9781626564275_FCPROBLEMWe’ve been taught obedience so well that it’s become habit. “We see the results of this when employees in corporations, government agencies, the military, and elsewhere bow to pressure to do things that cover up problems and create unnecessary risk or damage,” Ira Chaleff writes in his new book, Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong.

SOLUTIONJust as guide dogs are trained to recognize and resist a command that would put their humans and themselves at risk — for example, if a person with limited sight gave the command to step off the curb just as a quiet hybrid car was approaching — we must cultivate the habit of Intelligent Disobedience, which Chaleff distills into this formula:

1. Understand the mission of the organization or group, the goals of the activity of which you are a part, and the values that guide you how to achieve those goals. 

2.When you receive an order that does not seem appropriate to the mission, goals, and values, clarify the order as needed, then pause to further examine the problem with it, whether that involves its safety, effectiveness, cultural sensitivity, legality, morality, or common decency.

3.Make a conscious choice whether to comply with the order or to resist it, and offer an acceptable alternative when there is one.

4.Assume personal accountability for your choice, recognizing that if you obey the order, you are still accountable regardless of who issued the order.

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Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.