How to Disagree

I had a young, new member of the leadership team I lead ask me, “What do you want me to do when I disagree with you?” 

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

George S. Patton

Vitality, innovation, even passion are born in controversy, contradiction and discomfort. Doing something that stands out requires you or your organization to stand out. Standing out means you’re fighting the current, going against the status quo, in a word, disagreeing.

On paper it sounds simple. However, it’s challenging and the terrain perilous. For example, what if you are in the category of the new leader I mentioned. How do you disagree with the older, more experienced leader to whom you report?

Before you disagree learn and align.

Publically and privately express your alignment with organizational values, mission, and vision. Ask the experienced leaders to explain their understanding of these three essentials. Ask follow up questions that let others know you understand core values. Clearly, explicitly, express alignment.

Disagree early, clearly, politely, and specifically.

Don’t wait till the last moment. Offer your alternative perspective early in the debate. Clearly connect with the desired outcomes and be prepared to defend your position without becoming defensive.

Once the decision is made, grab an oar and row.

It doesn’t matter whose option or which combination of options is chosen. Once the final decision is made, the entire team is all-in.


Young leaders may feel a need to hang on to their positions even when they are rejected. In my opinion arrogance usually drives this attitude. Rather than hanging on, let it go. Humble yourself, grab an oar and row for the good of the team. You’ll earn respect by respecting the decision you didn’t agree with.

What other suggestions can you offer someone who disagrees with their boss or with a decision the leadership team has made?