Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Disagreement Is Not Disloyalty

Executive Summary:
Particularly in times of urgency or crisis, leaders sometimes dismiss or even resent those who express disagreement with plans or decisions.  However, we should all recognize that a loyal, responsible team member should feel compelled to share opinions or concerns. 

The Rest of the Story:
Every leader appreciates an optimistic team that falls in line when decisions are made.  No leader enjoys a consistent pessimist that can be counted upon to find fault with our plans.

Certainly the perpetual pessimist should be encouraged to make an attitude adjustment or, if the insights are a genuinely valuable part of your repartee, instructed to keep his or her opinions private between you so that the rest of the team is not negatively influenced.  But just because a teammate, especially one who is generally optimistic, disagrees, it does not mean that person is no longer loyal.

Take a minute and consider what the ideal attitude is for one of your team.  Don’t entertain the attitudes that make life easier per se.  Consider what makes your team the strongest.  Go ahead and make a short list either in your mind or on a piece of paper before you read further.

Did you list some attitudes or behaviors similar to the following?
  • Feels a sense of ownership or pride in the team and its accomplishments
  • Exercises personal and team values with integrity
  • Communicates ideas
  • Provides solutions to problems, not problems
  • Strives to better the team
  • Does his/her best in every effort

Certainly you worded things differently.  Perhaps you listed a few different behaviors.  I’m betting though, that at least several of the attitudes you listed are similar to, or common with, the ones above.

So let’s pretend that you have a team member that demonstrates all of the ideal attitudes we identified.  Now let’s ask ourselves, “If this team member saw a problem with my decision or plan, would this team member tell me?”  Obviously, the answer should be “yes.”

So if the ideal team member would voice concerns, would you dismiss them or resent them?  No one likes to have his or her mistakes pointed out, but if the person brining it up is genuinely trying to help or prevent a possible mistake shouldn’t we consider what he or she has to say?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because a team member disagrees or voices concern that they are contrary.  Chances are they are genuinely trying to help.  Consider the feedback an opportunity to potentially improve upon the plan instead of an immediate roadblock to the plan.

There may be any number of reasons why someone has concerns or disagrees.
  • Does your team member truly understand the problem or the plan?
  • Does your team member see a risk you did not address?
  • Does your team member feel threatened by your decision and wish to protect him or herself?
  • Does your team member have an idea that they feel might serve better?

In any of these situations, wouldn’t you want or expect a loyal team member to speak up?

If someone disagrees or voices concern, make an effort to understand why.  You have an opportunity to learn something or improve your plan, and even strengthen your relationship.  It will be extremely rare that you find someone is really trying to undermine you.

If you are that team member with concerns about a leader’s decision or plan, by all means voice them.  However, there are tactful ways and harmful ways to do so.

Unless you are invited in a group forum to share concerns, voice them to your leader in private.  That way you are not spreading doubt or concern among your peers.  It also saves you some face with your peers if they disagree with your concerns.

Make it clear that you are trying to help, not to get in the way.  You can say so.  An affirmation to this is to provide an alternative solution, not to just present a problem or complain.

Leadership is a skill that must be cultivated and exercised.  Consider the wisdom expressed herein and reflect on your mentor leaders’ behaviors and your own.  Chances are you have experienced in one way or another the phenomenon of disagreement being mistaken for disloyalty.  It’s common.

Don’t make the mistake.  Recognize that a loyal team member should share concerns and help prevent mistakes they perceive.  Consider it an opportunity, not a roadblock.  Get to the root of the concern tactfully and strengthen the trust between you and your team members.  It will make you a stronger leader.

Stay wise, friends.

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