Intelligent Disobedience

Silhouette of Guide Dog

silhouette of guide dog on leash

Intelligent Disobedience: What Guide Dogs and Service Dogs Know that Humans Can Learn

Is government training going to the dogs? Maybe it should.

I periodically conduct courageous follower workshops for federal agency managers at a government training center in West Virginia. In today’s program, in addition to the 40 human participants, there was a canine presence in the classroom. The young dog was being trained, by one of the participants, in  tasks required of guide dogs. Because of this presence I learned about Intelligent Disobedience.

During a discussion of our relationship to authority – and when we should and shouldn’t comply to that authority’s orders – the student volunteered that there was an excellent example of this question under her table. She explained that guide dogs are trained to not comply with an order from the person they are guiding if that order could put the person or the team (person + dog) in danger. For example, the dog would not execute a command to step off the curb if a car were coming around the corner at speed.

This seemed to me a perfect analogy for the distinctions we need to make in hierarchical situations when we receive an order that we believe will cause harm. When I came home, I Googled “Intelligent Disobedience” to see what I could learn about it from guide dog training. Lo and behold, I found that the principle is already being taught in advanced project management training. It is necessary to equip project managers to skillfully resist orders  from above that produce mission creep and threaten the ability to successfully complete the project. Here is one  example:

I am now making enquiries to determine how a guide dog is trained to make the distinction between orders that should be followed and those that should not. Perhaps analogous strategies can be useful in developing individuals and  teams. I will let you know what I learn about this.

—Ira Chaleff     October 6, 2010

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