How Leaders Can Handle Disagreement

September 6, 2022

two colleagues having a discussion

Overview: Intelligent leaders seek debate and disagreement to improve decision-making. Debate is the only way to avoid the passive sabotage of those who cannot voice their arguments or opinions. Giving everyone at the table a voice and considering every idea is the only way to secure the active commitment of all parties involved.

At first, disagreement may seem like the bane of decision-making. A layman might assume that leaders would have everyone on board when making a decision. However, leadership coaching professionals and seasoned leaders understand nothing could be further from the truth.

Intelligent leaders would rather surround themselves with people who disagree, question, or who are not afraid to voice ideas and opinions. Such people create debate, deliver alternative perspectives, and help leaders achieve critical thinking that leads to stellar decisions.

How Leaders React to Disagreement

Leadership maturity determines whether leaders see disagreement as an asset or a liability. Immature leaders tend to view disagreement as a personal challenge or attack. Such people entrench themselves during arguments and refuse to give an inch. Immature minds see losing an argument or having to commit to a course of action the other party suggests as a defeat.

Due to their positions of authority, immature leaders try to quell disagreement and silence those with alternative views on the subject.

  • Weak leaders may shrug off disagreement as unimportant or a mere nuisance.
  • Some may go as far as to remove dissenters from their teams, thus eliminating what they perceive as hurdles.

The result is a disempowered team robbed of all authority and ability to influence decision-making.

However, mature leaders will welcome debate and disagreement. They understand the dynamics of decision-making and how disagreement fits into the process.

Weighing and Buying In

When immature leaders rob team members of chances to weigh in on certain matters, they deny them opportunities to buy in.

Contrary to what the immature mind believes, people are reasonable. They may have differing opinions, but so long as the search for truth guides them, they’re willing to buy into alternative solutions.

The mature mind understands the only thing that matters is truth. So long as someone proposes a logical path to truth, it’s willing to accept that alternative route.

Mature leaders know it’s impossible to always secure full agreement at the table. Their goals are to ensure when parties disagree, they still leave the room committed to approaches that best serve common causes.

Entertaining disagreement does not make the commitment to a solution less likely. When they can voice opinions and perspectives, people are more likely to commit to alternative approaches.

The Dangers of Passive Disagreement

A lack of disagreement and fair debate makes it impossible for parties to commit actively to common approaches.

When they leave a leader’s office without having committed to a solution, people go back to their spaces and begin resisting the approach the leader has deemed appropriate. They don’t make resources available. They sit back and don’t act so they may triumphantly declare, “I told you so” when everything comes crashing down.

This passive sabotage is poison for any organization.

How Can Leaders Support Constructive Disagreement?

The only way to defeat passive organizational disagreement and sabotage is to allow all parties to freely voice opinions while expecting the same level of maturity from everyone.

group discussion
The shortest path to commitment leads through debate.

To facilitate constructive disagreement, leaders should:

  • Create and maintain an environment of psychological safety where all parties can voice their opinions and ideas.
  • Learn not to judge alternative and quirky ideas.
  • Accept and embrace diversity in thought. We’re all different, and our minds work differently.
  • Learn not to give personal spins to disagreement and debate.
  • Never disregard ideas or opinions. Even if unusable in its original form, an idea can generate spinoffs that may deliver optimal solutions.

Executive coaching sees leadership maturity as the lever through which leaders improve their skills. Mature leaders accept debate and disagreement as part of the decision-making process. They also expect commitment from all parties once they make a decision in the spirit of truth and alignment with an organizational purpose.

Contact us to learn more about how you can join the IL Movement as a coach or how you can benefit from partnering with us to bring IL Solutions to you and your organization.

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