By Alan Roan
In war the first principle is to disobey orders. Any fool can obey an order
First Sea Lord Jacky Fisher
Recently I was doing an innovation presentation for the Army and came across the idea of Intelligent Disobedience by a guy called Ira Chaleff.
Ira talks about Intelligent Disobedience maintaining a balance within in a military system with rules and authorities while maintaining responsibility for the actions we take. He discusses a school of thought regarding different types of intelligence. Knowing when and how to obey or disobey authority can be considered a form of intelligence that incorporates both interpersonal skills and moral grounding. Intelligent Disobedience may be as important as becoming a learning organisation.
If Intelligent disobedience were to be boiled down to a formula for the military, I think it would contain the following:
Understand the mission, the end goal of which you are part and the values that guide you how to achieve these goals. (Wait a minute, is this not mission command?)
When you receive an order that does not seem appropriate to the mission 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. (I am sure I remember having the importance of Integrity being emphasised at RMAS!)
Make a conscious choice whether to comply with the order or to resist it an offer an acceptable alternative when there is one. (Wow, I shouldn’t blindly follow the orders of my superiors. I should be expected to challenge them)
Assume personal accountability for your choice, recognising that if you obey the order, you are still accountable regardless of who issued the order. (Now that is new. I cant blame my boss for making a bad call)
This makes sense and most normal human beings would act in this way if they had the freedom to do so. But when I was serving, why did I not feel I could readily enact parts 3 and 4 of this formula?
I guess it was cultural. Decision-making by tiers of governance smothers the bold individual or at least conceals their identity. I realised that there is no benefit or credit for taking such a risk and felt unfulfilled and frustrated and is discouraged from further attempts. I was scared of being marginalised or even fired for being out of step.
The Army has changed since I left, mainly for the good, but I sense a growing frustration within the young Officers that I meet. Rather than creating a ‘learning organisation’, how about fostering a military that is audacious and promotes Intelligent Disobedience?
If you are interested in reading more of Ira’s thoughts, follow this link: