When it comes to respecting authority, we may face conflicts with our bosses or leaders if we are told to do something illegal or immoral. We talk with Ira Chaleff, founder and president of Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, who says that sometimes it may be necessary for us to disobey authority in order to protect ourselves and others. “Some of us learn the lessons of obedience a little too well, and when the time comes to stand up to the boss we give in because we’re afraid of negative repercussions if we don’t,” Chaleff says. “We can take some fear out of the experience if we know how to say “no.”

Chaleff elaborates about Intelligent Disobedience: thinking consciously about the orders we are given, saying “no” in a calm, professional manner, and explaining why we chose to do so. He says this method works for anyone, from an office employee to a soldier on the battlefield. Even service dogs learn intelligent disobedience for when they are given a command that may endanger their owner.  

Chaleff says that practicing intelligent disobedience requires the courage to assume responsibility, the courage to help a leader move past your decision, and the courage to take a moral stand. He also advises teaching children to think carefully about what they are asked to and how to determine the right time to obey and the right time to question authority.

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  • Ira Chaleff, founder and president of Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, Washington, D.C., author of the book Intelligent Disobedience: Doing right when what you’re told to do is wrong

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