Doing Things Differently to Improve Results

22.03.2018 |

Episode #10 of the course Increasing your leadership potential by Bob McGannon


In this final email of the course, I have one significant recommendation. Do not take anything I have stated as “hard and fast rules.” In fact, to get the best results, sometimes you have to break the rules, using an approach I call intelligent disobedience.


What Is Intelligent Disobedience?

The phrase “intelligent disobedience” comes from the world of seeing-eye dogs and in simple words, is described as: “Intelligent disobedience occurs when a service animal trained to help a disabled person goes directly against the owner’s instructions in an effort to make a better decision.”

Sometimes leaders need to do a similar thing to achieve the best results. So, from a leadership perspective, intelligent disobedience is:

• the ability to manage communications, relationships, and processes to accomplish corporate goals

• the act of saying no to managers, deviating from corporate processes or acting against management direction for the sake of achieving a better outcome


What Does Intelligent Disobedience Look Like?

When I attended IBM New Manager’s School, we had an instructor who showed up for class wearing a construction hard hat with many dents and scratches on it. He said, “You aren’t trying hard enough to improve your business if your hard hat doesn’t eventually look like mine. Sometimes trying to improve things means ruffling a few feathers or making some mistakes.” I completely agree.

Successful intelligent disobedience requires “homework.” Take time to understand your environment, have a very clear concept of the perceptions of your leadership team, and possess the courage to take action and make decisions that benefit the interests of your business. Sometimes those interests are best served by a decision not to follow prescribed rules and policies. Doing this may be necessary because corporate procedures are never written with perfect foresight and cannot cover absolutely every situation and every context. So, you may be faced with a decision to make: “Do I do ‘as I am told’? Do I follow the corporate processes, even though in this instance, I believe that it may not yield a positive business result?”

Don’t engage in intelligent disobedience recklessly. It should be well thought out, considering:

• the potential gain for the organization

• the effort it will require to ensure a positive outcome

• the way you will explain your actions to your management and teammates


Necessity to Assess the Risks

To be intelligently disobedient means you must assess the risks associated with the actions you are considering, especially when you will be:

• breaking or bending organizational norms or rules

• pointing out issues that senior managers are ignoring

• challenging the culture of a long-held business model

Based on extensive conversations I’ve had with leaders around the world, a few common themes start to emerge when leaders assess their degree of personal risk. These are:

• the presence (or lack thereof) of other alternatives to accomplish the objective

• the relationship with their manager, who will evaluate their performance and the resulting business outcome

• one’s moral stance on the situation—your personal integrity involved in the issue


Does an Act You’re Considering Represent Intelligent Disobedience?

I cannot tell you if an act you may consider is intelligent disobedience or not. For instance, challenging your senior officer in a meeting in the military is unlikely to be viewed positively. However, if you don’t challenge your senior leader in a meeting at Google, it might not be viewed positively. This is because intelligent disobedience is contextual; you need to understand your business culture and environment.

The best leaders I know engage in intelligent disobedience by understanding their business as thoroughly as possible. They always act to improve business outcomes, though not for personal gain. They communicate their intent in advance when feasible and do not blame others for outcomes that don’t go as planned. But they only take these actions after careful consideration and assessment of risks. My premise: Value outcomes over compliance when appropriate.

I hope you enjoyed the course, and good luck with your leadership journey! Please reach out on LinkedIn if I can answer any questions.

All the best!



Recommended book

Intelligent Disobedience: The Difference Between Good and Great Leaders by Bob McGannon


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