Great Debate: How Differences in Leadership Opinion Can Benefit Your Organization

Time to Read: 5.4 minutes

Updated: July 5, 2023

There are many different psychometric tests that will tell you what kind of leader you are, you could be transformational, delegative, authoritative or transactional leader on one list, democratic, laissez-faire, strategic, or visionary on another. One thing to note is that you will come up against someone or a group of people with differing approaches to leadership, commercial approach, day-to-day management and everything in between.

What many leaders in this scenario run the risk of is seeing this as a battle of the egos, alpha against alpha where the winner takes all power over this and future decision making. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.

Why Healthy Debate and Disagreements Can Be a Positive Thing:

We naturally shy away from conflict because it can be uncomfortable, seen as an ineffective use of time, and can lead to frustrations or tensions. However, having a leadership team that is comfortable voicing their opinion and making fact or data-backed assertions that disagree with your suggested course of action can be hugely beneficial by:

Dispelling Homogenous ‘Groupthink’ Mentality

While some shared characteristics are to be expected from a leadership team that both informs and is defined by your company culture, there should never be a full homogeneity of thought, approach and opinion. The term ‘group think’ refers to a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people make irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform, promote harmony or avoid conflict at all costs.

However, groupthink can lead to mistakes and errors slipping through strategic plans as no one is looking critically at any given idea to sense check it or stress-test it for any avoidable risks.

Creating Well-Rounded Strategies

A disagreement can often lead to a better understanding of a problem and its potential solutions. If your senior leadership team are comfortable questioning your approach, providing counter arguments, and offering differing opinions your strategy is more likely to be based on a broader range of factors and meet a wider range of customer or market needs.

Creating a Process of Continually Improving Your Strategy, Processes and Teams

When leadership knows they have the power to change the way strategic processes and activities are carried out via well-argued, fact-based ideas, then your enterprise holds the key to continual development and improvement. Your leadership team needs to know that any good idea may not be a good idea if the market changes, and pivoting is the right thing for the business. If this is an embedded practice within your strategic planning for your leadership team, then your business will be led by the right idea at the right time.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Those unwilling to change their mind will never change anything”, which is very true when it comes to business. Every person in your leadership team, including yourself, needs to be open and accepting to other people’s ideas and opinions, basing decision making on facts, figures and data rather than emotion or ego.

How to Ensure Leadership Disagreement Has Positive Outcomes:

Like any debate, the rules of engagement have to be clearly communicated and agreed beforehand. Having led, started and managed many leadership teams in my career, I have a few recommendations to ensure any disagreement between your leaders has a positive outcome:

1. Establish an Expectation of Research, Respect and Trust

Make sure that your leadership team knows that they have the space and respect to always speak their minds, offer their opinion, challenge and question ideas. But there needs to be an expectation that counter ideas or challenges to an idea or strategy need to be based on data, facts, research. For those less tangible topics like staff morale, company culture, etc. encourage your teams to use examples to back up their ideas.

There needs to be an open dialogue between different parties and a respectful set up so that everyone can speak without fear of attack, criticism, sarcasm, etc. Encourage active listening and that everyone ensure that they understand:

  • What the goal of this idea is.
  • What evidence/data it is based on.
  • What was the basis of this idea, what led to it.

2. Acknowledge Disagreement But Commit to an Idea

One misconception about agreeing on a strategy or plan of action is that everyone needs to be in agreement on what’s the best thing to do.

In reality, everyone needs to understand the rationale, the tactics or resources needed, the ultimate goal and commit to it based on an agreement on the desired or projected outcomes.

The ‘Disagree and commit’ tactic benefits your company in three ways:

  • It allows you to ‘fail fast learn fast’
  • It ensures you are results oriented and working towards a common good
  • You have greater flexibility when you need to pivot

Even if your entire leadership team does not think this idea is the best course of action, most people can rally around an idea if it is built on sound rationale. If their ideas are also built on sound rationale, they can be incorporated at a later stage or adapted to over time.

As Cal Zant said

Being unified is more important than being right.

3. Watch for Passive Disagreement

Passive disagreement refers to situations where an individual does not agree with the ideas posed but doesn’t offer a counter argument. This can be out of wanting to avoid conflict, internal politics, having more knowledge or understanding of certain unknowns, or a host of reasons. It is extremely damaging to any strategy or idea as that person won’t disagree with it publicly or offer a solution or alternative, but neither will they lift a finger to ensure the strategy is executed properly or successfully.

You need to encourage debate and discussion from all parties and make it clear that everyone has their part to play and will be held accountable to the achieved outcomes.

4. Celebrate Successful Outcomes

If you’ve implemented an outcomes-focused approach to decision making, celebrate when those outcomes are successful and came from respectful, fact-based debate!

The fact of the matter is that people can have different opinions and ideas, and both could be perfectly right, you just need to learn how to prioritize and communicate the rationale for choosing any decision over another. Easier said than done as it is so easy to take disagreement personally, even in the workplace. But if you trust, respect and empower your senior leadership team, debate can be a great benefit to your strategy.

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Sara McCarville

Sara is the Chief Operating Officer at Pierpoint driving the company's strategic vision and oversight. With over 20 years of experience as an accomplished workforce solutions strategist, she developed complex global solutions for Fortune 100 clients. Before Pierpoint, Sara founded an RPO firm sustaining double-digit growth until acquired. She also designed and delivered best-in-class solutions for clients at ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions, Allegis Global Solutions and built the Direct Sourcing Service Line at WorkLLama.

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