How Disagreements Can Work For Your Good

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. – Albert Einstein

In his book, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Charles Swindoll tells of meeting a man who once served on one of Walt Disney’s original advisory boards. The early days were tough; but that remarkable creative visionary refused to give up.

What was particularly intriguing was how Disney responded to disagreement. He said that Disney would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining.  Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, and stare back in disbelief, resisting the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually did not pursue it. The challenge was not big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement.

Taught by most in Leadership 101 is how to get along with others, build consensus, and to speak with one voice.  This art is practiced in many conference rooms as leaders measure success by their ability to squash resistance to their agenda and corral the “rebel rousers” who dare stand in the way. And this is where the practice of good leadership fundamentals with its predictable boundaries must embrace unlimited progress through constructive disagreement.

Insecure leaders will never accept or tolerate disagreement and see it as a form of rebellion that must be defeated. It reminds me of the time veteran baseball umpire Bill Guthrie was working behind home plate one afternoon and the catcher for the visiting team was repeatedly protesting his calls. Guthrie endured this for a number of innings, and then called a halt. “Son,” he said softly, “you’ve been a big help to me in calling balls and strikes today, and I appreciate it. But I think I’ve got the hang of it now, so I am going to ask you to go to the clubhouse and show whoever’s there how to take a shower.”

How do you handle disagreements? Do you take it personal? Do you punish those who disagree with you? Or do you, like Disney, embrace and welcome disagreement as a means to making large dreams come true? Here are three observations to help you embrace constructive disagreements and create a culture in your organization that welcomes all viewpoints.

Constructive disagreements unleash creative thinkers.

Disney refused to embrace small dreams. If the dream and the opposition were too small, it did not merit his time and creative energy. But he knew he was surrounded with gifted people. And he knew his team did not disagree for the sake of resistance, but ultimately they resisted the notion that the impossible was not within their power.

Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” And in like manner, it requires courage to let go of what others have labeled certain failure for what you believe are acceptable risks.  Creative thinkers set aside conventional wisdom and push through as a team to achieve the impossible.

Constructive disagreements unshackle big dreams.

It almost sounds like a contradiction. But real progress is made not when there is unanimous agreement about mediocre ideas but with disagreement on how to conquer large ones. The path of least resistance requires little. Not disagreement. It demands engagement, commitment, and a personal investment in the outcome.

Disney wanted to present his team with ideas and dreams that would challenge their traditional ways of thinking and tap into their creative genius. It is one thing as a leader to value and appreciate those who always agree with you, but in order to go to a higher level you have to be courageous enough to embrace the ideas and can-do spirit of those who disagree and trust them to deliver. What big dreams have you embraced?

Constructive disagreements produce undeniable results.

By embracing unanimous disagreements Disney and his team created magic that has endured for decades. Millions of people all over the world have experienced the wonders of the Disney brand.

Are you a leader with big dreams and great ideas? Your rise to the next level could be just one disagreement away from reality. As you unleash creative thinkers, unshackle big dreams, you too can attain big results. But first you must step out of your comfort zone and look at things in a new light…wouldn’t you agree?


© 2013 Doug Dickerson


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