How do you react when someone disagrees with one of your ideas?  Does your fight or flight instinct click in?  That is, of course, the natural response honed by millions of years of evolution.  Yet, for today's higher order leaders, it's far more productive to go the other way and encourage the disagreement.
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In a recent Harvard Business Review article on The New Path To the C-Suite, Heidrick and Struggles' Kevin Kelly and his co-authors conclude that "To thirve as a C-level executive an individual needs to be a good communicator, a collaborator, and a strategic thinker".

Collaborate with people that disagree

Collaborating with people that agree with your ideas is easy and safe.  Collaborating with people that have different points of view is harder, but arguably the only way to get to new levels of thinking.

This is why you need to go the other way and encourage disagreement.  Strike that.  This is why you need to inspire and enable disagreement.  As a new leader, and we're all new leaders all the time, a critical component of building a high-performing team is getting people to the point where they feel comfortable disagreeing with you as a leader.

Modeling disagreement

Our top 10 clients have now used us over 130 times.  Thus one question that comes up more and more is whether teams will view us unbiased facilitators in cases where we have long track records with their new leader.  Our approach is to be transparent and let the teams know about our history with the leader and our biases.

Then, early on in our first team workshop, we search out an opportunity to disagree with the leader.  What's important is the leader's reaction to the disagreement.  Welcoming the disagreement gives others permission to disagree.

Golden moments

Early disagreement with you creates golden moments.  How you are perceived to react to disagreement speaks volumes.  Discipline yourself to welcome it.

But make sure you're drawing the distinctions betweeen disagreeing and being disagreeable and between disagreeing with ideas and disrespecting the person.  You want to create a culture of people that agreeable disagree with ideas from people they respect.

Levels of openness

We coach new leaders to ask others how they like to be disagreed with:

  1. Don't disagree with me
  2. Disagree in private
  3. Disagree in small groups (but "never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking")
  4. Disagree in public, but politely
  5. Bare knuckles all the time

Push this is as far as you can, which is probably further than you are comfortable with.  Then go beyond being comfortable with it.  Seek it out.  Encourage it.  Enable it.  Inspire it.  It's the only way to grow.

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