Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Disagree Well

Years ago now, as I was about to make a cross country move as a senior executive, a friend gave me a great piece of advice that I have offered to others over the years. He said, "You're going to be moving across the country, as a vice president, to a brand new group of people who have never met you. They are going to wonder what is important to you. Don't make them guess."

He was right, people want to know what a new leader expects of them, what they can in turn expect of him or her. I took that encouragement and began to write down what was important to me. If you've never done it I suggest you should, it's a great exercise. I wrote something that became a bedrock of my leadership, something I said to my new staff and then repeated at newspapers across the country as I took on increasingly larger roles.

To each new team I said, "You're probably wondering what's important to me and I thought we should just talk about it. I'd like to start with the way we disagree, because there most certainly will be times when we don't see eye to eye. I want a quid pro quo - a you do for me, I do for you."

"Let's start with my half. First when you disagree, I want you to speak up. The way I see it, its a good thing for my thinking to be tested now and then. I'll make fewer mistakes and more of the right decisions. Next, I'll do my best to listen with an open mind when you do, it is so easy to just jump to defending a point of view before the other person has even stopped talking and I'll try not to do this. This will take us to one of two places: there will be times when what you say convinces me I should change course. When this happens I'll make a change and thank you. There will be other times when I still believe my decision is best for all. When this is the case, I'll tell you why - once. We are not going to get into those never-ending disagreements."

"Now, what I expect of you. When you disagree with me do it constructively and from the perspective of what's best for all, not just you or your department. And next, and this is important, when it doesn't go your way I'm going to expect you to accept my decision, even when you disagree strongly, and give it your best work. Here's why: if you don't, if you grumble about it and complain to others about it, we won't give it out best effort. We may even end up undermining it. And if we don't give it our best we'll never honestly be able to reflect back on the choice to see if it was the best option. And we should want to learn from each choice we make."

Without thinking about it as culture in those early days, I was taking an important step to shape a strong culture. There are many ways to to navigate disagreements, some much better than others. Its normal, even healthy for people to disagree with you now and then, it's how you deal with these differences that is important. The opportunity is in helping your team learn how to disagree in the most constructive helpful manner and then carry out the mission with energy. Tapping the thinking of the group before making a decision just makes good sense.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is important to you as leader? Write it down, reflect on it.
  2. When differences of opinion arise with those you lead, how do you handle them today?
  3. When you've made a tough choice that some have disagreed with, how energetically does your team carry it out?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor


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