Agreeing and Disagreeing

“A lot of lip service gets paid to being honest, but no one really wants to hear it unless what’s being said is the party line.” ― Colin Quinn

We can’t always agree on everything and should not.  Leaders at all levels need to welcome informed, genuine, even impassioned debate.  It’s the lifeblood of healthy organizational development, introspection, and ultimately growth and reform.  Yet it is all too rare in so many companies and government organizations, especially at senior levels.  People go along to get along, ultimately depriving the mission and organization of their insights, wisdom, and knowledge.

An organizational culture develops that rewards obsequious personalities, promotes manipulators, rewards opportunists, and propels sycophants to the highest levels. It is a culture that values personality over character, tolerates only “happy talk”, and revels in relationship connections and cliques. Eventually, no debate, dissent, or even discussion is allowed and the effects on organizational performance are truly suffocating.

It’s a dynamic that leaders must avoid at all costs.  Truth is not defined by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so if the whole world disagrees.  It is only through informed dialogue, genuine listening, and passionate disagreement that we find something larger than an isolated point of view or mindless support for the boss’ ideas.  We find comfort in those who agree with us, but growth in those who don’t.

When scientists disagree, it’s usually because they have insufficient facts/data. From that common vantage point they can agree on what kind of facts/data to get. They then get the facts/data. The facts/data show the way to a solution. Either one point of view is right, or another is right, or both are wrong.  And from there, they move on.  That kind of conflict resolution process is needed in every organization and business; what are the facts/data that matter?  What do they mean?  What should we do about it?  Let the debate begin.

Setting the conditions so that occurs is something only leaders can do and it’s an essential role.  If everyone agrees or isn’t willing to debate, the best and brightest people and their ideas are wasted.

“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.” Margaret Thatcher

“Unlike top management at Enron, exemplary leaders reward dissent. They encourage it. They understand that, whatever momentary discomfort they experience as a result of being told they might be wrong, it is more than offset by the fact that the information will help them make better decisions.”— Warren BennisNew York Times, 2/17/02

Keith Stalder, #54

Copyright © 2015 Keith Stalder & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Keith Stalder has over 40 years of leadership experience in organizations from the very large and established to small technology start ups and everything in between.  With a broad and deep appreciation for, and understanding of, the fundamental challenges of organizations and businesses, both in government and the private sectors, his passion is to help all organizations become all that they aspire to.  He is the founder of Keith Stalder and Associates, LLC, a company dedicated to advancing organizational visions and fundamentally transforming how businesses everywhere are run.  Visit for more information. 

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