When Being Disagreeable Is Needed

Transformation within workplace culture – even to improve leadership – often requires being disagreeable until the change happens. Within the workplace, we tend to lean to the agreeable “yes” and polite “No problem!” when in actuality, what is needed is blatant truth and insistence on accountable progress. The track record for ”conscious” or “transformational” organizational development is appalling. Perhaps the record reflects the politics of agreement.

Within many work cultures, and even around the globe where cultures differ, we often observe a phenomenon of high-arching politeness that permits social fiction in the corporate environment and erodes performance capacity. When truth-telling fails to materialize, and follow-through falls short, those genteel manners and courteous nods of agreement – spanning over the truth and avoiding honest feedback – can obstruct much-needed corporate development, successful fund-raising or essential culture change.

When masquerading in the fog of political correctness, so-called leaders agree with high-arching politeness that transformative change MUST and WILL occur. Thus the status quo is maintained, ad nauseam. This irony reflects a failure of a type: Unwillingness to be disagreeable. Innovation flees as fear and apprehension reside in a festival of co-dependence.

Even when the conversation appears to embrace the disagreeable within a board meeting or when the C-Suite convenes to make a difficult decision, we often observe the inherent social tendency – the quick reversion to being agreeable – permitting an indefatigable fiction that a problem does not need to be solved, or worse, will not be dealt with whatsoever.

Yet, the real leader learns that being capable often means the act of being disagreeable is the right tool for the task. The concern with being agreeable must be put aside. The mission takes precedence. If the nominal leader does not act effectively, someone must see it through. It requires strength and maturity for a leader to be disagreeable – not conform to the norm – in tenuous, often sticky situations when transformation and culture change are needed.

The more excellent point is that a leader can do this without being disrespectful. Being disagreeable is not the same as being discourteous.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”

Sometimes, only disagreement can push aside hubris and comfortably entrenched authority. Alternative wisdom that is brilliantly disagreeable and persists through the point of measurable response can be precisely what is needed to usher a sluggish organization into its new age of excellence.

As a leader, regardless of which side of disagreement you are on, perhaps your time has come! What is your willingness to model and nurture constructive impertinence? In your sphere of influence, what is failing or falling apart, awaiting constructive and persistent disagreement?

What are the opportunity costs of high-arching politeness and political correctness to your mission and your soul?