Lean Into Disagreement
Leaders don’t learn much when everyone agrees. Disagreement, on the other hand, is ripe with insight and new understanding. Leaning into difference by exploring why others hold an opposing view allows leaders to clarify their own advocacy.
By engaging disagreement in a curious way, leaders who ask questions and probe the premises and arguments on the other side of a conclusion learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their preferred view.
The idea of leaning into disagreement is more about curiosity than challenge. Leaders who fuel debate benefit from a full examination of the arguments, but don’t learn nearly as much as the inquisitive leader who wants to understand why others see matters differently.
Leaders typically know their own views all too well. It is in understanding what other perspectives can teach them that transforms leaders to learners.
Leaders who lean into disagreement appear more openminded and willing to listen. When team members perceive a leader is accepting of disagreement, they make stronger arguments for their viewpoints, speak more candidly, and engage with more confidence. The end result is better conclusions by everyone involved.
By exploring disagreement rather than arguing against it, leaders display a bias for learning that can become infectious. By watching a leader embrace disagreement, ideas in conflict seem perfectly normal — so much so that everyone begins to examine why others think and believe the way they do.
Leaders don’t learn by looking in the mirror. They learn by talking with others who hold a different point of view. As Peter Elbow reminds us, “The surest way to get hold of what your present frame binds you to is to adopt the opposite frame.”
Leaders who see disagreement as a sign of progress lean into it. They remind themselves frequently that highest form of learning occurs through dissent.