Intelligent DisobedienceDoing Right When What You Are Told To Do Is Wrong
© 2015 by Ira Chaleff, All rights reserved
1st Edition (July 7, 2015)
Formats: Paperback, Large Print, eBook, Audio (6 hrs 28 mins)
Torture in Abu Ghraib prison. Corporate fraud. Falsified records at Veterans Administration hospitals. Teachers pressured to feed test answers to students. These scandals could have been prevented if, early on, people had said no to their higher-ups. In this timely new book, Ira Chaleff goes deeply into when and how to disobey inappropriate orders, reduce unacceptable risk, and find better ways to achieve legitimate goals.
The inspiration for the book, and its title, came from a concept used in guide dog training. Guide dogs must be able to recognize a command that would put their human and themselves at risk, effectively resist the command, and identify safer options for achieving the goal. This is precisely what Chaleff shows humans how to do.
He delves into the psychological dynamics of obedience, drawing in particular on what Stanley Milgram’s seminal Yale experiments—in which volunteers were induced to administer shocks to innocent people—teach us about how to reduce compliance with harmful orders. Using dozens of vivid examples of historical events and everyday situations, Chaleff offers advice on judging whether intelligent disobedience is called for, how to effectively express opposition, and how to create a culture where, rather than “just following orders,” citizens are educated and encouraged to think about whether those orders make sense.
Table of Contents
- Preface: How I Learned about Intelligent Disobedience
- Foreword: by Phil Zimbardo (read)
- Introduction: Creating Cultures that Do the Right Thing
- 1: The Pressure to Obey: What Would You Do? (read)
- 2: Obedience and Disobedience: When Is Which Right?
- 3: Breaking the Habit: It Takes More than You Think
- 4: Finding Your Voice: Saying “No” So You Are Heard
- 5: Understanding the True Risks of Saying “Yes”
- 6: The Dynamics of Authority and Obedience
- 7: Changing the Dynamics
- 8: The Crucial Lessons from Guide Dog Training
- 9: The Price of Teaching Obedience Too Well
- 10: Teaching Intelligent Disobedience: Where Do the Lessons Begin?
- 11: Doing Right at Work: Saving Lives and Accomplishing Missions
- Conclusion: Personal Accountability and Cultures that Honor Doing Right
- Appendix: The Courageous Follower: A Model for Creating Powerful Partnership
- About the Author
- Other Books by Author
- About Berrett-Koehler
Excerpt by Ira Chaleff
Nearly daily, we find stories in the media of individuals and whole departments who went along with programs or orders that came from higher levels in- or outside their organization that defy common sense, our values as a people, or the law of the land.
No segment of our culture is immune, from politics to sports, from federal agencies to religious institutions, from the education system to law enforcement, from health care to transportation, from food production and distribution to communications, from the military to financial services, from energy to social services.
You’ve read these stories or seen them in the media and, like me, wondered, How could they have done that? The question now is How do we change this?
Change will be achieved by teaching and rewarding the skills to differentiate between programs or orders that should be embraced and those that should be questioned, examined, and at times resisted. The capacity to do this should be an integral part of risk management strategies, which exist in all sectors.
If we distill Intelligent Disobedience down to a formula, it would look something like this:
- Understand the mission of the organization or group, the goals of the activity of which you are a part, and the values that guide how to achieve those goals.
- 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.
- Make a conscious choice whether to comply with the order or to resist it and offer an acceptable alternative when there is one.
- Assume personal accountability for your choice, recognizing that if you obey the order, you are still accountable regardless of who issued the order.
Formulas give us a sense of where we are going but are not sufficient to transform deeply seated cultural patterns. Transformation requires first understanding the powerful social mechanisms that produce and reward obedience, regardless of the merit or lack of merit in what is being obeyed. Then strategies and tools for overriding these mechanisms and retaining independence of thought and action are needed.
I did not start writing this book because I had the answers for how to do this. I began writing because I wanted to learn more about the answers. That requires a journey. When an author embarks on such a journey, in a sense the author is in service to the book. As the book unfolds, it insists the author look more deeply into the matters under investigation.
The author can report a symptom, but the book demands to know what is the underlying disease? The author can identify the disease and the book insists on knowing what caused it? What are its triggers? The author digs deeper and identifies causes for the disease and the book says, now what? Are there cures for this disease? If so, please share them with the reader. If not, how can we manage the disease until a cure is found? What are lines of investigation the reader and other researchers can follow to develop better ways of managing and ultimately curing the disease?
This book has taken me on such a journey. Professionally, I work as a consultant and a coach to adults who make our government agencies, armed services, corporations, professional service firms, nonprofit associations, and universities run. I have seen these organizations from the bottom and from the top. I know the pressures that exist at different levels and the difficult choices that have to be made about what is the right thing to do in different situations.
I could have written this book to solely address these professional environments. The reader would have recognized the book as a work about organizational behavior and ethical and operational choices. But if I left the book at that level, we would have been examining the symptoms or, at best, the disease. We would not have explored the causes of the condition and the remedies for those causes.
Let me put it this way: no executive, manager, front-line worker, administrator, principal or teacher, officer or foot soldier sprang fully formed from Zeus’s head. They—you—were raised in a family that was embedded in a culture, and each family, culture, and subculture within that culture developed ways of socializing its young, including you.
In contemporary society, socialization occurs most intensively in a formal school setting. If we include preschool and kindergarten, most of us spend nearly two hundred days a year for at least fourteen years in a system that is not only expected to educate us, but requires us to recognize and obey the authorities and rules of the system. When behavior shows up in our adult life at work, in the military, in our citizenship, it has been shaped to some degree by social forces that run deep. This book is going to take you diving below the surface of your working world into these formative conditions. Why?
There are at least three compelling reasons for you to accompany me on this journey. First, it is the intention of this book to help you as an individual alter some of the conditioning that is not serving you or your workplace well; it is difficult to do this without understanding the nature of the forces that are holding existing behaviors of obedience in place.
Second, if you are an executive, manager, supervisor, officer, minister, teacher, or anyone with others in your care, and you want to create an environment in which individuals hold themselves personally accountable for doing the right thing, you need to understand the underlying, shaping forces working against this in order to transform those forces.
Third, you are not only your professional role. You are a whole person. I am writing to the whole person. You may have, or expect to have children, or you may be an aunt or uncle, a mentor, a coach, or otherwise a steward of the next generation. How are those children being raised? Will the meta-messages they are getting in the current system equip them to be strong adults who can take difficult stands and to be strong citizens who can protect the values of our culture? You cannot “outsource” their moral development to the formal education process or even to the religious education process. You are part of their moral development, and you are their advocate in the system to which you entrust their development.
I am asking you to join me in an inquiry. We will:
- Look at the cultural forces that implicitly and explicitly value obedience over the higher level skill of discerning when it is and is not right to obey
- Glean scarce but useful lessons from education and training that support knowing when and how to intelligently disobey
- Examine critical research on reducing the pressure for individuals to conform and obey when they should not
- Learn from uplifting examples of individuals who did the right thing when told to do the wrong thing
- Meet wise and accomplished leaders who have developed the capacity to do the right thing in those whom they serve
- Consider how the attributes of Intelligent Disobedience are central to a culture that values accountability, human dignity, and creative innovation
This book will flow among different levels of our lives—our work lives, our education lives, our home lives, back to our work lives. Understanding appropriate obedience and Intelligent Disobedience at each level will reinforce our capacity to create the right balance between these at the other levels.
Throughout the journey, the image of the guide dog will accompany us, utterly devoted to obeying when doing so serves the common good and to disobeying when doing so prevents avoidable harm. We will look closely at the “secret sauce” that goes into guide dog training and distill what of this can be transferred to human development and cultural change.
There is one cautionary note I must make, though I find doing so painful. In the United States, and undoubtedly in other countries, the dominant culture is given more leeway to disobey than are others. As we have seen far too often in the United States, when people of color, and especially young men of color, even hesitate momentarily to obey, they can pay a very steep price at the hands of those with authority, especially when that authority is armed. I caution anyone reading this book to be mindful of unwritten cultural norms and factor those into your decisions on when to obey and when and how to intelligently disobey.
Although this book explores the social roots of obedience, it is primarily a book intended for application. I am not generally a fan of distilling complex dynamics to actionable bullet points. I have nevertheless done so at the end of each chapter to aid application. In many of the chapters, the research and lessons examined contain too many riches to easily retain in one reading. Rather than risk letting them be lost, I chose to risk oversimplifying them. The task falls to you to integrate these summaries meaningfully into your thinking and actions.
You now have a map for the journey you will be taking from the workplace to the school room to the dinner table, back to the workplace, and ultimately to the responsibilities of a free citizenry. Let’s start the inquiry by looking at a concrete example. It is critical to take this material out of the theoretical and the ideal into the hard realities of the world in which they play out—in other words into your world.
Foreword by Philip G. Zimbardo
French philosopher Paul Ricoeur introduced the concept of the “servile will” in The Symbolism of Evil, (1960). The servile will is the will that makes itself a slave to authority. It diminishes human nature. Such a mental state, although seemingly extreme, is more commonplace than we would like to believe. There is a sense of freedom liberating oneself from a will that is enslaved.
From our earliest socialization, we are rewarded for obeying all authorities: parents, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, and more. Nowhere in our educational system, or even our social system of values, is there training in appropriate disobedience or simply to distinguish between obedience to just authority and defying unjust authority.
In our private and public institutions, we see perennial catastrophic results of this failure among adults who should know better, but conform, comply, and obey anyone who conveys a sense of authority. In the schooling of our young, we see patterns of obedience being formed that lead to misplaced obedience when they become the adults in those institutions. Where do we turn to for fresh answers to striking the right balance between obedience to authority and independent choice?
We can turn to two places. First we turn to traditional social sciences for research-based answers and maybe solutions. Then we turn in a totally new direction, to be revealed to you in this remarkable book, about what we can learn from the training of trusted guide dogs who are taught what is called Intelligent Disobedience.
It is has been a half century since the great social science experiments on authority and obedience, first by Stanley Milgram at Yale University in the 1960s, then followed by my Stanford Prison Experiment in the early 1970s.
Milgram’s work revealed that among ordinary citizens, two-thirds were willing to deliver painful shocks at the insistence of an authority who was a stranger to them. The good news in that research program was that when participants observed people like themselves refusing to deliver the painful shocks, then 90 percent of them refused. That means we are prone to obey authority, but also affected by the behavior of our peers. Thus we are all social role models, and what we do—for good or for bad—has a ripple effect when other people observe us.
My research at Stanford University extended the Milgram paradigm away from a single authority issuing commands to having participants embedded in a social context where the power resided in the situation. Normal, healthy college students, randomly assigned roles of prisoner or guard, lived in a simulated prison setting—prisoners did so day and night, the guards for eight-hour shifts. We intended the study to run for two weeks but had to terminate it after six days because it had run out of control.
Our goal was to create the mindset in these college student participants that they were real prisoners and real guards in a real prison. That goal was accomplished far beyond what I could imagine when we began. In the contest between good people and evil situation, humanity lost and the situation won. Put differently, the dispositions of the individuals predicted nothing about how they behaved in either condition when overwhelmed by a powerful, novel social setting.
Even I was caught up in the power of that situation by mistakenly playing dual roles of principal investigator and prison superintendent. In the latter role, I became indifferent to the suffering of these young men, allowing the guard abuse that emerged to continue much longer than it should have. The takeaway message from this study is that human behavior is more under the control of situational influences than we want to believe, as we continue to cherish the concept of freedom of the will and inner determination of our behavior.
More recently, I have been conducting research in the Netherlands and Sicily, with my colleague Piero Bocchiaro, to illuminate the conditions that can lead to disobedience to unjust authority. We introduce the concept of productive disobedience, an act of peaceful noncompliance with laws or norms or the demands of authority that, if followed, would hinder the moral progress of society.
What happens when a scenario is described to college students that clearly depicts an authority figure making unethical and unjust demands on student participants, and they describe how they would react? The vast majority report they would rebel; however, when their classmates are actually put into that very same situation, just the opposite occurs—more than 80 percent blindly obey! This again reveals the power of situational norms to dominate moral reasoning.
Our only bright light was discovering that those high on the antiauthoritarian personality trait were best able to be defiant. We found disobedience could be enhanced when in the presence of student rebels and when obedience had a high personal cost. The overall high rate of obedience to authority was, however, distressingly high.
Despite my proselytizing these messages for many years, humanity is no closer to having absorbed the lessons of these experiments than it was before they were made part of our social consciousness. In our private and public institutions, we still see perennial catastrophic results of this failure among adults who should know better. It is evident in the schooling of our young where we see patterns of rigid obedience being formed from day one by teachers and officials. This leads, in turn, to misplaced obedience when these students become the adults and taxpayers supporting those institutions. Nowhere is there any attempt to teach the fundamental difference between just and unjust authority, the former earning our respect, the latter justifying disobedience and rebellion.
Where do we turn to for fresh answers for striking the right balance between rigid, mindless obedience to authority and independent choice? Our society gives lip service to creating independent thinkers as a primary result of all education. But so far, there is not much to show for the success of that ideal.
I was surprised to discover the answers I was seeking in this remarkable book by Ira Chaleff. He offers us a metaphor and an effective model from “man’s best friend.” It is clear that we painstakingly teach guide dogs how to discern between when to obey and when to resist in order to avoid causing harm if given dangerous commands. Surely, we can do the same in the acculturation of our young and the development of our professionals in the highly sensitive roles that our society gives them to make things run properly. Whether training teachers for classroom management, guards for the security roles that have become ubiquitous, or information specialists who control our privacy and the protection of our identity, it is crucial to develop new ways of distinguishing between appropriate obedience and rightful disobedience.
Reading this remarkable book has given me new hope for the prospect of humanity finally learning the overdue lessons needed to cope effectively with the many urgent challenges of our times. I do hope that you, dear reader, will also learn and apply the vital messages contained in Intelligent Disobedience. It is our communal responsibility to see that its lessons will be taught in relevant ways at every stage of human and professional development—to our youth, as well as to our social, religious, business, and political leaders.
The Pressure To Obey: What Would You Do?
I WAS TEACHING A CLASS on courageous followership to a group of doctoral candidates at a Methodist university. Courageous followership is a way of being in relation to leaders. It requires giving those in leadership roles genuine support and building relationships with them that will allow those in follower roles to speak candidly when needed to prevent or correct leadership failures. It was a great class with lots of lively, engaged dialogue.
During a break, one of the students came up to me and told a story that made a deep impression on me. This story happened twenty years prior to our conversation.
She had been a young nurse, fresh out of nursing school and assigned to a hospital emergency room. A cardiac patient was rushed in. After a quick assessment, the emergency room physician ordered her to administer the medication he judged the patient needed. She was stunned because she had been taught that this particular medication carried grave risks for a cardiac patient.
For a moment, put yourself in her shoes—in those days, probably uniform white shoes. This was an era when nearly all physicians were male, all nurses female, so the gender-based inequality of power was pronounced. The physician was older and more experienced, so this added to the perceived power differential. And, after all, he was a physician, with years more training than she had! Can you feel how many social forces were at work pushing her to snap to and do what she was told? Can you sense the time pressure to act one way or another with a cardiac patient’s life at stake?
She confided that she did not know where the needed courage came from to speak back to this authority figure. She told the doctor that she had been taught that particular medication could be fatal in this patient’s situation.
What was the doctor’s response? As is so often the case with someone in authority, he bristled at the questioning of his decision and in a raised voice, with a stern glare told her, “You just do it!”
Imagine yourself in that moment. You are in an emergency room. You chose nursing as a profession to help people. You want to be a competent, caring professional. If you act against your training and administer the medication and the patient dies, how are you going to feel? How will you face the patient’s family? How will you face a review board that examines actions that were taken? There is no “do-over.” But what if the doctor is right and you disobey? What if your refusal to act endangers the life you are trying to save? How will you live with that? And what will be the repercussions of disobedience on your career that you have just spent several years preparing for?
There’s no time to hesitate. What would you do?
Seriously, what would you do?
We don’t face such obvious life and death choices like this every day, but it is just such a choice that requires us to think about our accountability for obeying or disobeying, regardless of who gave the order. And it gives us a chance to mentally rehearse what it feels like to be under great pressure from an authority figure to do something we feel may be wrong, or even very wrong. When under pressure like this, our ability to make rational or moral calculations may freeze as we are flooded with stress hormones. Our ability to think outside the two choices—obey or disobey—may shut us off from productive alternative responses. The decision to question a forcefully given order usually must be made in a situation of high emotional stress. Will that excuse the choice you make? Will that allow you to fall back on “I was just following orders”?
If you’ve allowed yourself to feel what this young nurse must have been feeling, you realize that you’re at the point where you are going to need to take a deep breath, pump some oxygen to the brain, and quiet your fear sufficiently to make a principled decision.
So I invite you to actually do that now, to keep experiencing what she must have felt like. Take a deep breath. Take a moment. Think about alternatives to responding to the situation you suddenly find yourself in.
Now let’s return to the emergency room to see what the young nurse did. This is a paraphrase of what she told me:
“I hooked up the IV bag to the patient, and I injected the medication the doctor had ordered into the bag. Then I called the doctor over and told him the medication was ready to be administered. All that was needed was to open the valve on the IV bag, but that I couldn’t do it because it violated my training. He would need to open the valve himself.”
Do you see how she found a stance that was neither obeying nor disobeying, but stayed true to the principles she had been taught? Most of the groups to which I tell the story at this point let out low sounds of admiration for the way this newly minted professional found the composure to hold her ground. I certainly do. I am not at all sure that I would have had the presence of mind to generate the option she chose in that intense situation. That is the value of sharing stories. They mentally rehearse us for times when we find ourselves in similar, intense situations.
What was the outcome of this story?
The nurse’s requirement that the doctor himself open the valve, if he was indeed convinced that his order was correct, stopped him in his tracks. It was enough to get him to rethink the risks and the other options that were available. He changed his order to administer a different medication, which the nurse promptly did. The patient recovered fully.
What was going on here? Was this an incompetent doctor? Probably not. Just as we put ourselves in the nurse’s shoes, we need to put ourselves in the doctor’s shoes. He may have been doing his residency at the hospital, a requirement for all physicians. Hospital residencies are infamous for the brutally long hours they require, particularly in the period this occurred. It could be that he was sleep deprived and that his own mental processes were operating at a reduced level. Emergency rooms can be particularly hectic places where the patient load suddenly spikes as several ambulances arrive at once, or violently ill patients begin retching or having seizures in the waiting area. Maybe the doctor himself had a touch of illness he was working over.
None of these conjectures are to excuse bad decisions; they are offered to humanize the authority figure. Whether a doctor, factory manager, fast-food supervisor, school principal, financial executive, or athletic coach, sometimes those in authority are not at their best, yet the responsibilities of their position require them to act. We must be able to see them as both having legitimate authority and human frailty, and at times be prepared to question them, correct them, or even disobey them. Because we can’t say “we were just following orders.”
Remember that nurse. There is one great role model, whatever your profession.
A few initial lessons we can glean from our engagement with this story:
- The need for Intelligent Disobedience can arise suddenly and demand a high order of poise to respond appropriately within the compressed time the situation demands.
- We must give our own perceptions, training, and values equal validity to the perspectives of those in authority when weighing the right course of action.
- There are often options other than “obey” or “disobey” that can lead to better outcomes.
- If we take a deep breath and pause to think, we may be able to offer alternative creative responses that satisfy the authority and better meet the need of the situation.
Review by Regina Donan
Regina’s Reading Table: Intelligent Disobedience
Chesterton Press (August 3, 2015)
This is an important book.
I met the author Ira Chaleff at a local author event shortly after he had moved into our area. Ira is a leader in a necessary area of business ethics: followership. We always hear about the need for leadership, and the training of good leaders, but very few people think of the importance of good followers or of being a good follower.
I consider myself a student of human nature by virtue of my primary occupation of fiction writing and editing. In order to create fascinating characters, one must be fascinated by humanity. An important part of studying humanity is studying how we relate in group settings, and that has led me to have an abiding interest in sociology. So when I first heard Ira discourse on the importance of follower-leader interactions I was intrigued, and I was excited to get a copy of his landmark book, The Courageous Follower. I knew he was working on a new book, and I knew I would read it, but I was unprepared for how engaging, provoking, and inspiring this book, Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told Is Wrong, would be.
The term “Intelligent Disobedience” is used in guide-dog training: dogs who are trained companions to disabled people. When I was a little girl, we had a family friend, Bertha, who was blind, and whose constant companion was a black lab dog, a patient, gentle animal, who was always at her side, listening for Bertha’s commands, but wise enough to disobey when needed. Bertha had told us how the dog was not only a guide, but a protector as well: he would stop her from walking into a busy street or from hitting her head on a low obstacle. I don’t know if I ever saw the dog’s “intelligent disobedience” in action, but it impressed me profoundly that this dog was not only smart enough to obey, but smart enough to disobey.
How does this play out in human relationships? Most of us spend our social lives as part of some kind of hierarchy, however informal: we are employed, we are church members, we are club members, political party members: in our personal lives, we are students of teachers, children of parents, and so on. Part of being an adult is learning to be a good team player, to be able to take on a job or responsibility, to be able to be accountable. There’s a lot of conscious and unconscious pressure, especially at school and at work, to learn to obey, to be obedient. While we Americans always pay lip service to the rebel, especially in our entertainment, most of us learn that rebelling in most situations is unproductive and even destructive. When we experience a conflict, especially in personal relationships, we might feel like we have only two choices: obey without question or rebel and lose everything.
But how often do we learn how to disobey intelligently?
While Chaleff praises thoughtful civil disobedience, he makes it clear that intelligent disobedience is different. It’s a wise way of working within the system to preserve the values the institution is based on while opposing a specific command or practice that contradicts those values.
The most riveting part of the book was the true life stories. The young emergency room nurse who was directed to give a patient a medication that she knew was dangerous. The lieutenant who was asked to cover up a military base violation. The teacher who found a fellow teacher had duct-taped a student to a chair. The McDonald’s manager who was told to strip-search an employee. Sometimes inspiring and sometimes disturbing, these stories act as templates for how to act–and how not to act–in difficult situations.
Most of us have heard of the famous Milgram experiment in the 1960s where participants were asked to administer a possibly dangerous electric shock to test participants. Nearly 75% of participants did as they were told, even when they knew it was wrong. Chaleff revisits this experiment to find out something more important: under what conditions did participants disobey the orders? What factors encouraged more intelligent disobedience?
As in his other book, the highly-recommended The Courageous Follower, Chaleff acknowledges the role of belief in higher values and authority (ie: religion) to help a person wisely obey an errant authority. His ability to depict the nuances of ethical behavior is, as in the other book, spot on, making this book an important resource for believers who find themselves in the position of management or employee, in institutions both religious and secular. In a world where business ethics books either neglect or dismiss the role of religious belief, this inclusion is a breath of fresh air.
He also issues a call for educators to examine how they can train their students not just to learn to obey, but how to discern when disobedience is the higher call. Those who are striving to recover true liberal education (education that liberates) in schools should read this book. Montessori educators and Responsive Classroom theorists would find affirmation in some of their approaches. Classical educators and off-the-beaten-path educators and homeschoolers will find a book they will want to read aloud to their teenagers and absorb into their curriculum. At least, that’s what I experienced!
Intelligent Disobedience is a must-read for anyone who recognizes the paradoxical quality of loyalty: that sometimes the best thing you can do for the authorities in your life is to oppose them. Wisely. Creatively. And loyally.
Read it to your teenagers. Read it to your fellow teachers. Share it with your organization.
This is an important book.
Intelligent disobedience is a core competency for doing the right thing when pressure is exerted to do otherwise. This book provides an overlooked and essential element of ethical decision making and right action.
General Walter Ulmer, Jr.
President and CEO, Center for Creative Leadership
While only a few of us may become whistleblowers, all of us have the responsibility to stand up for doing the right thing. «Intelligent Disobedience» offers the tools for doing this effectively in virtually any setting and at any age.
Executive Director of the Government Accountability Project
Intelligent disobedience includes the ability to be heard when we say “No.” Learning this skill is an elusive key for living abundantly and reading this book will give you the key. It will be of even greater value to parents and teachers entrusted with developing personal accountability in today’s students and tomorrow’s responsible citizens.
Robert E Quinn
Author of The Best Teacher in You and The Positive Organization
This powerfully written book engages the reader from the moment they begin to read it. History has proven that people usually follow orders regardless of their sense of right and wrong. Nazi Germany is certainly one of the most glaring examples, yet, unfortunately, we still have not learned from history. Ira Chaleff brings the power of this lesson home with his meaningful examples and engaging writing. This book is illustrated with examples from such varied subject matters as Health Care, Transportation, Energy, Finance, Education, the Military and more. Everyone will find the information both informative and relevant. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I found Chaleff’s focus on how to support our children in developing the skills of intelligent disobedience to be extremely insightful and helpful. At the end of each chapter, Chaleff highlights the key ideas that were presented to reinforce the concepts. I highly recommend this book for leaders, educators, parents… In fact, just about everyone would benefit from a better understanding of the concepts presented.
Retired school administrator, Santa Clara California
As a young high school assistant principal, I found Chaleff’s «The Courageous Follower» an invaluable resource in navigating my professional responsibilities. There is no other book I have recommended as often to up and coming school leaders. «Intelligent Disobedience» builds wonderfully on Chaleff’s earlier work and provides not only practical advice for the workplace but has profound implications for how schools must change if they are to better prepare students for democratic citizenship.”
Area Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
I have much to say having finished your new book on «Intelligent Disobedience». It is a wonderful piece, perhaps the only book I have ever read that gave me hope that reading a book can begin a process of behavioral change. Congratulations on the book, its contents, tone, combination of humility and audacity, voice and aspiration.
Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine
Chaleff’s «Intelligent Disobedience» proposes that individuals find a healthy balance for living in a system with rules and authorities while taking responsibility for their actions. The author uses examples from government agencies, hospitals, the armed services, and corporations to demonstrate how “just following orders” can be taken to an extreme, causing harm to others. He turns his attention to helping readers deflect commands they deem wrong and ultimately create a culture that does the right thing. VERDICT: Thought provoking, stimulating, and ideal for discussion groups.
Columnist, Library Journal
Intelligent disobedience is a core competency. This book provides an overlooked and essential element of ethical decision making and right action.
John A. Allison,
retired Chairman and CEO, BB&T Corporation
The Courage to Disobey…the Intelligence to Know When / To some Intelligent Disobedience might feel like surprising stings as when, in one of Mr Chaleff’s stories, the lieutenant told the Colonel, “That’s BS, Sir”. To others, it will be the wonder of possibility that comes from finding the secret, camouflaged doorways in barrier walls.
Doing the right thing is not always as simple as it looks. The right thing is usually multiple threads of doing, woven into a tapestry of time that looks different depending on which side you stand and how far away your perspective takes you. “Intelligent Disobedience” takes you through a journey of examples of multiple angles and perspectives, that helps you stand back and ponder…that gives you the opportunity to learn vicariously from others’ experiences.
Leading and following is a constant ebb and flow we are all engaged in within our outer lives and inner selves. This ebb and flow surges in the edge of chaos (of chaos theory) and requires a lot of effort to keep creative possibility rooted in the earth of truth where it can be nurtured. In “Intelligent Disobedience” Mr Chaleff helps us identify possibilities of creativity “to do the right thing when what we are told to do is wrong”.
I had the blessing of spending some time with Ira Chaleff, sharing conversation, and letting his wisdom form connections to my own wandering thoughts. I had read his earlier book, “Courageous Follower” and found resonance there, but when he mentioned Intelligent Disobedience, the brilliance of “Yes!!” was uncovered. From Aesop’s fables to Star Trek, from fiction of Harry Potter to realities of “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young”, and throughout my life of trying to follow and learning to lead, I found the truths of Intelligent Disobedience had walked with me.
I just wish I would have had the opportunity to understand more clearly and earlier in my life, Ira’s “algorithms of obedience” as well as the “balancing algorithm of Intelligent Disobedience” that he describes. This book is full of stories of Intelligent Disobedience that I am not sure I would have had the courage to replicate had I been in that role. Much of our “domestication” (that Don Miguel Ruiz talks about in his “Four Agreements”) prevents us from hearing the call of the “inner self” that Mr Chaleff refers to as fundamental to Intelligent Disobedience.
For me, Intelligent Disobedience is not a treatise, it is now one of my life manuals that gets dog-eared, passages highlighted, wisdom underlined, and pages marked up with questions, comments, and memory links to other works and thoughts. Intelligent Disobedience is one of those books that could be, and should be, the foundation for courses and learning interventions in K-12 and all the other education and training we go through for professional and personal lives. It should be a recognized component of all of our personal understanding and critical thinking.
From the “crucial lessons of guide dog training”, thru the “price of teaching obedience too well”, to the “elements of teaching Intelligent Disobedience training”, Mr Chaleff takes us on a journey of introspective learning. The premise of Intelligent Disobedience feeds the light of truth, helping us to be more resilient, when we inevitably bump against the darkness. “Intelligent Disobedience” is a practical guide for anyone interested in effective leadership, courageous followership, or just pilgriming through everyday life in conversations with ourselves.
Buy “Intelligent Disobedience” and let it simmer with you. You may not agree with everything, but some wisdom therein will touch you, and I’ll bet you will vibrate with some new knowing and understanding.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Barry R.
@Amazon.com, US – July 8, 2015
The Vital Responsibility of the Subordinate / When should you disobey an order or command from a senior or authority?
Short answer: When you have a better grasp of the situation and the potentially damaging (economically, culturally, morally, etc.) effects of the order than does the issuer of that order.
Long answer: This lucid and very well-written book on the subject by Mr. Chaleff.
In his book Mr. Chaleff makes a very persuasive case for instilling true responsibility for our actions, whether ordered to perform them or not, and outlines many possible and workable approaches to accomplish this end.
Written in a comfortable and conversational style, the book is a joy to read, while it also delivers its message clearly and convincingly. Anyone who has faced the dilemma of whether or not to obey will benefit from this guided journey through the territory; and any authority or senior who has suffered the chagrin of having a wrong directive blindly carried out by well-meaning juniors—much to everybody’s embarrassment or sorrow—will here recognize the resolution to such problems.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Ulf Wolf
@Amazon.com, US – July 10, 2015
Essential reading / Essential reading for anyone interested in the way humans interact with each other, which ought to mean most of us!
This book addresses the phenomenon shown up by the Milgram/Zimbardo experiments which show how good men can do bad things when subject to the right kind of pressure. This is obviously a major factor in human civilization – 20 million people at least were murdered by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao’s copious underlings, and these underlings can’t ALL have been empathy-free sociopaths.
But the focus of this book is the day-to-day implications for the college or workplace, where good people are acting against their better judgement, to the detriment of the organisation. This book is important, and probably unique, because it carefully analyses the detailed processes with which we can teach ourselves and others to counter this pressure to do the wrong thing.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Victor Lyons
@Amazon.com, UK – July 25, 2015
He makes the undeniable connection between many of the greatest evils perpetrated throughout history and blind obedience / Chaleff writes with vigor and clarity about one of the most under-appreciated skills a person can possess — the ability to disobey in service of higher ideals. He makes the undeniable connection between many of the greatest evils perpetrated throughout history and blind obedience. Counterintuitively, it is not those who cannot follow the rules that have done the most damage but those who do follow the rules without the ability to think critically. The concept itself is eye opening, but Cheleff goes the necessary step further to show readers how to develop the tools to be intelligently disobedient and to teach it to others. It’s a must read for the conscious leader and for the empowered follower.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0xc vb.//. Jackson
@Amazon.com, US – February 1, 2016
Read this book! / You need to read this book! No matter where in the hierarchy you fall, you need to be aware of the dynamic that is happening when orders are given, followed, and most importantly, NOT followed.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Lonny Cruff
@Amazon.com, US – June1 28, 2016
Encourage Creative Intelligence Disobedience / On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov, the “Man Who Saved The World”, was the duty officer at the command center for the Soviet nuclear early-warning system when a missile, followed up to five more, were reported to be launched from the United States. Petrov judged the report to be a false alarm, and his decision is credited with having prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack that could have resulted in large-scale nuclear war. Investigation later confirmed that the satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned. Petrov’s action is a supreme example of Intelligent Disobedience.
Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong by Ira Chaleff is not about Stanislav Petrov. Instead Chaleff constructs a lesson plan with many examples from the past (Nuremburg, Milgram, WorldCom, 9/11) and present (Seeing Eye Dog, TSA, Primary Education). I was impressed that the foreword was written by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The author does an excellent job connecting the anecdote from the preface – how to train guide dogs NOT to obey a command, which is a higher order skill – to the rest of the book. In particular, he addresses the concern that in the US we have institutionalized a system of authority and obedience from an early age that discourages intelligent disobedience.
Chapter 11 – Doing Right at Work: Saving Lives and Accomplishing Missions – resonated most with me. This chapter includes sections on Overcoming Barriers and Creative Intelligent Disobedience. This chapter alone could be a Executive Leadership course in my opinion, and the ten key elements at the end are excellent. Let me quote #9: Value and encourage the creative use of Intelligent Disobedience to counteract a culture descending into a learned helplessness that stifles innovation and self-correction.
In summary, I highly recommend this latest book by Ira Chaleff.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Alan L. Stone
@Amazon.com, US – October 18, 2016
Must-read! / This is one of those rare, absolutely must-read books. Around the turn of the century the phrase “Speak Truth To Power” became well known. I remember hearing it in an episode of West Wing … and the phrase struck a chord .. it was around the time of Colin Powell and George Bush and the Iraq War when you hoped someone influencial would speak up. Now with the current political climate speaking truth to power has become even more important. Ira’s book takes this concept and explores why it needs to be done, but also how hard it can be to make happen. Courageous Followers (and that is another must-read book of Ira’s) are needed even moer now, and not just in politics but in business and family life too. Get this book – you won’t be disappointed.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Dave Styles
@Amazon.com, UK – December 31, 2017
I loved this book! Not only is it very readable but Mr. Chaleff provides practical techniques and tools to keep people from following orders that harm themselves, others, and their organizations . Mr. Chaleff uses guide dog training as a means to understand the methodology and identifies 4 elements for training a workforce in Intelligent Disobedience. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to transform themselves and their organizations to do the right thing when you are told to do wrong.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Kari Uman
@barnesandnoble.com – 2017
This important book is wonderfully readable, as it explores why, when and how to say “no” to authority. It is a fresh and insightful leadership book, particularly if you want to foster a culture of problem-solving, innovation and ethical decision-making. And it’s a practical book, with useful guidance on how to be more effective at “leading up.” I often recommend it to my executive coaching clients.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars5.0Bev Jones
@barnesandnoble.com – 2017
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