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Intelligent Disobedience: If You were Ordered to Waterboard a Suspect, What Would You Do?

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Ira Chaleff is an executive coach, and author of a thought-provoking new book, Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong.  We discuss a number of real-life situations, from Sandra Bland refusing the trooper’s order to get out of her car to CIA waterboarding and drone pilots.Chaleff’s new book covers a wide range of situations: from fudging job safety reports to cooking the books, from the Bland case to the time PBC was told by a radio boss to give false timechecks in order to boost ratings.  We all face ethical challenges of various types, but how do we handle them?

A central focus of Chaleff’s book is the Milgram experiments at Yale, where subjects were ordered to deliver escalating electric shocks to a person when they gave the wrong answer.  Most people will follow the orders, even when they have major doubts.

Chaleff examines the psychology of humans, and applies the concept of “intelligent disobedience” that he learned from people who train guide dogs for the blind.  When a sightless master orders the dog to do something the dog knows can lead to harm, its refusal is important feedback to the master.  Likewise, leaders need to be able to listen to subordinates when they decline to carry out an order–in the best interests of all concerned.