Intelligent Disobedience

Photo of dog giving a raspberry
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you know when to say, “No!”?

Have you ever seen a blind person with a guide dog? I am fascinated by helper dogs, and guide dogs in particular. Columbus is the home to Pilot Dogs, a training facility for these four legged partners.

I heard a presentation by Pilot Dogs at a recent meeting of the Lions Club to which I belong. We heard a brief overview of the intense training regimen involved in taking a dog from birth through full employment as a Pilot Dog. One thing in particular jumped out at me – the concept of intelligent disobedience.

Our presenter explained that the dogs are trained to say “no” to the person they are guiding when the situation warrants it.

Imagine a blind person with a guide dog standing at a street corner. The person wants to go and starts to step off the curb. Meanwhile, the dog sees a dangerous situation and resists. Despite the person urging the dog to go, the dog refuses. They disobey. The person might become frustrated, but also must trust the dog.

Our presenter indicated that this has become an increasingly important behavior due to the increase in all-electric vehicles that do not provide the audible engine noise clues of traditional gasoline vehicles.

Does your company culture support intelligent disobedience? Does your boss allow you to say “no” when you know that what you are being asked to do is wrong? Maybe it is unsafe. Maybe it is simply stupid. Maybe the results of doing what you are being asked to do will be counter to the objective.

Being willing to stand up and say “no” to something you have been asked to do is a valuable skill. It requires confidence, courage, tact and a strong working relationship with the person you are saying “no” to. It also requires a culture that makes this behavior acceptable.

As a leader, fostering a culture that allows intelligent disobedience requires effort. It is not a natural behavior. It is critical to avoiding costly and even dangerous mistakes. And it is totally worth the effort.

Learn to say “no” when the situation calls for it – and be ready to explain why. Learn to accept “no” when you have asked someone to do something – and be open to a discussion about why.

Practice intelligent disobedience.