Intelligent Disobedience: The True Path of Leadership?

Intelligent Disobedience: The True Path of Leadership?

By Mohammed Abbasi, Co-Director of the Association of British Muslims

A Disobedient dog is disliked for being loyal to his nature as a dog – take the example of a guide dog helping his blind and deaf owner when crossing the road the dog sees a car the owner tugs and swears – the dog saves the owner who neither saw or heard the car – the dog was eyes and ears to his master and saved the master and now the master is in a bad mood and wants to get rid of the dog. The dog practiced ‘Intelligent Disobedience.’

Disobedience to a leader – who is blind and deaf – is our right and our responsibility – especially if that leader and those who he commands are going to be put in harms way. The Art of War teaches the philosophy of war for managing conflicts, winning battles as well as dealing with such leaders.

In a professional volunteer military there is an established hierarchy built on a strong foundation which has generally much fewer blind and deaf leaders than in other professions. Individuals stand at the bottom of this hierarchy and climb towards the top on merit. Those who are egotistical, deaf and blind get weeded out or are stopped from going higher towards the top because the whole structure depends on humility, work and merit of the rising leader. The whole hierarchy in the military depends on this – it must be like a well oiled machine to be effective. Master Sun in The Art of War says “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley” – The best leaders are open-minded, firm yet loving, they listen to their subordinates and set high expectations for them and give them the responsibility and freedom to be the best they can and to question them in a respectful and appropriate way.

Businessmen and politicians fail because they expect not intelligent disobedience but blind conformity. This is not to say that we should disobey others just for the sake of it but rather to understand that we are all thinking individuals for a reason and in a politics or business there are more opportunities for selfish behaviour by the ‘leader’ as opposed to the professional military – Sun Tzu said “All warfare is based on deception” Much of business and politics is about deception, especially in terms of deceiving competitors or political opponents. What politicians and business leaders need to understand is that deceiving your customers or your subordinates will be your undoing if and when they discover this betrayal for a quick vote or sale.

Conformity is a good way to run a family, business or nation as well as a military and this conformity keeps us on a straight path to get a job done. But if we were meant to live our lives conforming without thinking, living within a limited box like caged animals then – we are slaves – regardless how much we believe we are free.

Rebellion happens because people awake from the boredom of just grazing around in life like sheep in a field fenced in with a shepherd who is blind and dumb and a sheep-dog who doesn’t know how to be a guide-dog. The sheep uncomfortable at this lack of control and direction on their lives become vulnerable, they may wish to rebel but they fear the scientists may diagnose with something like mad-cow disease in which case the sheep feel they will be killed – all of them, as to stop this disease spreading. The reason experts are increasingly taken less seriously today is simply they are considered conformists – they are considered sheep by the sheep (masses) – these ‘experts’ don’t think outside the field which is the box of their expertise, some would say that experts like scientists and archaeologists (as well as others) are similar to religious fanatics – they have a set belief system which they refuse to move from and are fenced in and these sheep refuse to leave the comfort of their field waiting for the sheep-dog that amateur guide-dog of the blind and dumb shepherd to tell them what to do – for he has the access to the shepherd who has the food, water and after all the farm is his and the sheep value his kindness and ‘humanity.’ Humans were not born to live their lives grazing waiting to be harvested for their wool or meat. Leadership is something that moves people away from the comfort of the farm or zoo under protection from a blind and deaf shepherd with an over-worked loyal dog.

Rebellion to this ‘conformity’ is a must if we are to move forward and is happening slowly – people today are studying science or other specialist topics online in nontraditional ways as they feel the ‘structure’ of traditional education is like that of a limiting straight-jacket that hold back their creativity. This ‘awakening’ and learning together topics – good and bad at their own speed and in their own way is unstoppable. My own background – I studied Mechanical Engineering at University and picked up Sun Tzu The Art of War along the way, read it and reread it and become somewhat obsessive on strategy and military tactics books ever since and with the internet now I am sharing my knowledge of what I know of The Art of War and also MindMapping (this helps one study and learn in a much, much shorter time than traditional education – one of my friends learned techniques on how to shorten his one year work into a MindMap which took him just over a day to do).

The systems of governments (shepherds) and their dogs do not know how to handle these challenges to their power and control. ‘Leaders’ who become entrenched in their own comfortable fields – find themselves grazing with their sheep knowing not which way to turn thinking they still have the same leverage as before – the dogs feel for their masters and the sheep are frustrated for they lived their whole lives in this limiting field being fed and now they know of the expanse beyond their field and farm. Those leaders who feel threatened and challenge these thinking sheep – they will be trampled on and they will fall if they refuse to surf this wave of change and become real leaders in action – not just in word. The loyal dogs – doesn’t matter if shepherd dogs or guide dogs are becoming knowledgeable of their heritage of who their ancestors were – the glorious and noble wolves – their blood still carries in their veins.

We should help those who are in leadership position to be better leaders in influence and wisdom and not whoopee cushions which can just talk the talk and live it up for themselves whilst their followers starve. Master Sun said “Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak” – It is the general that controls an army. If that general is weak then his decisions and his orders will be weak. So best to have innovative and a strong general or generals if we are to succeed. In business we need a strong focused leaders and in politics – strong principled leaders.

A leader for the 21st Century?

1. Does the leader surround himself with ‘Yes Men’? ‘Asskissers’ and ‘Hierarchy Climbers’ – get close to simply socially climb higher and so they can look good to others at the expense of friends and foes alike whilst doing minimal if anything for the greater cause. These are the most dangerous to any organisation or group that wants to make a difference to benefit others. A leader fails and will deserve to fail if such people surround him. The leader should ask questions of all – even those who oppose him, the leaders mission is to do an effective focused job and get it done to the best of his ability and that can only happen if he knows as much as possible of others abilities, the teams abilities and his opponents – the last thing he needs is those who can weigh him and the cause down.

2. Does the leader refuse to pass authority to others? The leader must delegate as much as he can, he must pass it on – there are people who have the expertise and knowledge that the leader lacks they must be part of the leaders team. If the leader becomes too involved in ‘micromanaging’ rather than ’empowering’ those under his command – into a strong team he will fail and more importantly he will fail his team and the cause. Loyalty towards the leader is good but is bred through honest communication between members of the team – the leader should encourage his team to look at things differently, and to look through different perspectives – yes the final decisions rest with the leader and when things fail the leader will be responsible and he will need to take ownership of that failure – so its the best for him to delegate where possible and learn as much as he can as this will more likely get him to succeed not just as a leader but a leader who leads his team to success.

3. Does the leader expect the higher ups to know what they are doing? Many look to leadership in government, military, religion, scholars, academics, parents, community to tell them what they should be doing – yet we forget that they are like us – human. Many of us seek surrogate parents in ‘experts’ as we grow, but we are all alone in this world like lost orphans – no one can live our lives for us. One of the biggest causes of problems in society is mental health and it doesn’t matter what country or tribe or belief system is – when someone comes along wanting to replace our parents – the orphans jump to attention – people look towards leaders to guide them as their parents did when they were helpless and innocent little babies. People join political or religious parties or lets call them what they are ‘gangs’ as this gives them a parent surrogate who can tell them what to do or who to dislike whilst feeling safe within that gang, group or party. We all have different perspectives on things and many of us see ourselves superior or inferior in one way or another to others – we must be always mindful that we were born alone into this world and will die alone and it doesn’t matter how much power we have or others have – we will still die alone with nothing. So we need to move away from idolatry whether of ourselves or others by checking our thinking if we find ourselves elevating or deflating others in comparing them to ourselves.

4. Does the leader think that he knows what he is doing? When looking to criticise others few of us question our own beliefs and understanding of a situation and many lack the ability to see things from others perspectives – many of us live our entire lives through our own eyes – seeing things only from our own perspectives, yes we were born as individuals and we should live and think in our own way but – look at how others are living or seeing or hearing. Do not rebel just for the sake of rebelling – be wise about it. Practical ‘intelligent’ disobedience is needed against ones own understanding of a situation – the leader needs to disobey his own ego and check himself. The leader needs to lead a revolution of his self against himself – this is not an airyfairy spiritual thing – its reality. Our egos are an undisciplined energy and will seek any outlet to make itself take a stronger root within us – understand it, discipline it, fight it – but don’t kill it. Stand back and observe without emotion your feelings and thinking within the present moment and then look at others perspectives, get their ideas. The more in tune you are within yourself the more likely you will learn from others and where others are making mistakes – even leaders you will be able to deal with them more effectively. When a decision is made by the leader he must have the knowledge that he alone is responsible for that as he is of himself.

5. Does the leader listen to those below him? If the foundation is strong we are able to build something strong on it. The people who we consider below us are our foundation – they are the ones on whom we stand to rise up higher. They have the expertise that will help us – we call ourselves the leaders, generals or surgeons – but they are the civil servants, non-commissioned officers and the nurses with years of expertise and wisdom who have been there and done that – we cannot do things ourselves. Humble yourself to your foundation. If the leader just sits on his throne regardless of the foundation he will build resentment in those he considers inferior. If the leader is there just to show authority of his position he will build hatred towards himself. If the leader is there just to take and not give, to impose not empower he should be removed without ceremony.

6. Does the leader value bureaucracy over common sense? Leaders become comfortable being known as leaders and become complacent in their roles and end up becoming cheap politicians. The military weeds such leeches out ruthlessly but in civilian life such people are difficult to weed out as they become entrenched within the system which ends up corrupting the hierarchy – if not as a whole certainly those who are ‘under’ this supposed leader. We can see such leaders who say much and do little. We find such leaders under every stone – like worms and insects jockeying for attention and running here and there just to climb higher on the stone or hiding in this hole or that scared at getting eaten by other leaders – the bigger insects. Such leaders who become comfortable in their structure need to understand that apart from the bigger insects who threaten them – there are also other species – like birds and mammals who like feeding on juicy fat insects.

7. Can the leader tell the difference between fact and fiction? As humans our minds get influenced by programming which doesn’t have a bearing on reality – that programming even if based on reality becomes something else within our heads over time. Media, society, culture, religion, politics, race, tribe, family, parents – many I am sure do not have bad intentions but they have an influence on promoting myths and untruths whether to protect us or themselves – but in either case its to keep the status quo, they feel comfortable where they are and feel good at the calmness around them – whether that is what others want is another issue. The leader must be able to call attention to this stale thinking and separate facts from fiction – if not for himself at least for others around him. The leader must weed out irrelevances and ‘traditions’ which are holding him and others back – when weeding them out, the leader needs to be logical, focused and ruthless especially where others are depending on him succeeding. This is not to say we should do away with ‘traditions and culture’ as a whole – but rather to understand that there is a time and place for such things but not when leading.

8. Does the leader ‘Encourage Rebellion’? When the leader has a platform to help people rise up and develop it should mean the leader should be making other leaders and those upcoming leaders should be focused on being better than the current leader. The real leader has the confidence and maturity to know that he does not have all the answers and that there will be others who know better, are better and will be better. We should allow others to awaken their leadership skills under us and help them with the answers and if and when we become immobile – to remove us. The leader needs to encourage rebellion, out of box thinking, initiative. The leader is one who creates other leaders not one who just sits and takes the credit for other peoples work.

9. Does the leader want Peace or Progress? Many fear challenging leaders who resist change – they usually (but not entirely) resist because they are comfortable as ‘leaders’. Our duty is to help them become the catalyst to promote change despite the opposition they may have from their fellow comfortable ‘leaders’. Naturally if they don’t budge then there should be techniques to remove them from power as most who refuse to move have their own interests at heart, they maybe corrupt in one way or another and for us to remove them from that position they will feel that will open them up for attack from those they victimised or used when they were in power – understand they may also be being held back by others around them for their own personal reasons. Our duty as a leader or one who supports the leader is to get the job of leadership done – whether it means supporting the leader in power or even if it means removing the leader.

10. Do beliefs or reality drive the leader? We all have different belief systems very few of us really think of our own beliefs and how emotions from others have driven those beliefs – the people around of us are emotional beings and they also have beliefs based on unthinking emotions. The leader who is too emotional in his actions, thinking or behaviour needs to be kept in check or removed as that leader is a liability. We must question our own beliefs that prevent us from moving forward or getting the job of leadership done efficiently and effectively.


The path of leadership may look as if its a worn path but “Do not follow where the path may lead.  Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” as Emerson said.

A leader is responsible for others and allows them space for them to develop as leaders in their own ways so they can leave their own footprints. And at the end of our lives we we will be just human beings who left footprints and made new paths or trails for others – our duty whilst we are here is to make sure we leave footprints that bring tears of love in the eyes of those who come after us – not cries of hateful joy.

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