Read inside for more from Ira Chaleff.

The New Year has started in ways we have not previously experienced. I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, eighty miles west of Washington, DC. In recent years this served as a refuge of sorts. Today, the waves of political upheaval wash up on my doorstep as they probably do on yours.


One of the places where I regularly teach is the  Federal Executive Institute  in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is the federal government's flagship training facility for senior careerists from virtually every agency.  I am always somewhat awed by the responsibilities these managers have for programs as diverse as food safety, cyber security, public health, air traffic regulations, patent protection, military branch coordination, and a range of other issues that directly or indirectly affect the lives of millions.
In our system of government, career managers report to political appointees. When a new Administration takes office the term of appointment of the current political executives ends. The new cadres of political appointees often have a steep learning curve during which they need excellent support from the careerists. It is also a period when the new appointees can issue policies and orders without a deep appreciation of the impact these will have on the mission of the agency. At this juncture the skill sets of the courageous follower and intelligent disobedience are often vitally needed. This is significantly compounded when the new Administration is of the other political party with an agenda materially different than that of the former Administration.

Given these structural dynamics, and the avowedly disruptive agenda of the new President and his political appointees, I frequently am told "everyone should be reading your books." While that would be personally satisfying, at best I can encourage the application of a few core principles for those in the public sector being buffeted by these changes. They are equally applicable in the private sector.
  • You are there to serve the mission and uphold the values of your organization.
  • New leaders need your support and guidance to learn and perform their roles.
  • They also need your courageous and candid perspectives to avoid making serious mistakes.
  • If you are asked to do things that are unethical, illegal or harmful you have the choice to say no, even if the consequences are personally difficult.
  • There is no legal or moral defense in saying "I was just following orders".
How do you do this without risking your career?

There are no guarantees. That is why courage is needed. It is also why skill is needed. And yes, for ways to do this that raise the chances of positively influencing your leaders while preserving your career prospects I encourage you to read my books.
The  Bureau of Consular Affairs  of the US Department of State is responsible for issuing travel visas from over 300 consulates around the globe. Several years ago they developed ten  leadership tenets  to guide their actions.
The eighth tenet, Follow Courageously, states:

We take ownership of our work and hold ourselves accountable for improving performance and making our organization stronger. We dissent respectfully and help the boss become more effective in the interest of the team and the mission.

This resonates with the decades long tradition of the "dissent memo" available to State Department personnel.

The dissent channel has been used recently to express concern about President Obama's reluctance to intervene more forcefully to prevent civilian casualties in Syria, and on a more massive scale to express concern about President Trump's travel ban on travelers with visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries, now being reviewed in the courts.

All ten leadership tenets
are available here.

To view the talk I gave to the State Department in support of this tenet in 2012 click here. The video is 37 minutes long - I suggest you come back and enjoy it when you have the time. For more interviews and speeches go to The Courageous Follower Blog - Videos.
While we are understandably absorbed by developments in the US and their domestic and international impact, the rest of the world struggles with its own need to apply the principles of courageous followership and intelligent disobedience.

The Courageous Follower is 20 years old, in its third edition and has been translated into most major Asian languages. Intelligent Disobedience is now following in its footsteps.

This past December I was invited to give the keynote address on Intelligent Disobedience at the Asian Pacific international Schools Conference  in Hong Kong to educators from 24 countries.

The focus was on child safety and the purpose was to give guidelines on how to address the following two vital questions:

  • How do we equip our children to distinguish between when to obey and when not to obey and how to do so, regardless if the  orders come from known authority figures or school yard  bullies?
  • And how do we as professional adults apply the same techniques to misguided authority or intimidating bullying in our workplace?
The talk was warmly received, more so because one of the educators, Stephanie Howdle-Lang, Vice President of the Renaissance College of Hong Kong  had already tested the program at her school on over 150 nine and ten year olds and found the techniques were readily absorbed and put to use.

Ms. Howdle-Lang presented compelling video clips showing the exercises in action and debriefs of how students applied them in their lives. 

Here is the letter she thoughtfully sent to parents of the students to enlist their support in reinforcing the lessons being taught.
 chinaGo top ↑
Introducing Intelligent Disobedience at an early age holds promise for long-term cultural change. Meanwhile, we all live and work in environments in which constructive dissent and Intelligent Disobedience are needed at various times. 

Therefore, I am particularly excited to share with you the news that a Chinese translation of Intelligent Disobedience is due out shortly. With much care, the translation team in Beijing has chosen the language and cover on right to launch the book. Anti Obedience" in Chinese means contrary to blind obedience. The subtitle is "How to Face All Types of Authority Smartly. These are good choices that I hope will serve the book and its ideas well
newyearGo top ↑
My personal goals for the New Year include spreading knowledge of the practice of Intelligent Disobedience wide and far. If there are opportunities to invite me to give a keynote speech, a training session or an interview on this topic in your professional field please contact me here. Meanwhile, stay alert in your own spheres for the proper response to leadership uses or abuses of power. Support the former vigorously and resist the latter firmly. 

All the best,

Ira Chaleff

newyearGo top ↑