Agreement? Optional. Support? Mandatory.

If at any point in your lifetime you plan on being part of the workforce, know this: Your leader (or your leader’s leader) is going to make a decision that you disagree with. And you’re going to have to support it.

It’s that simple.

Well, I guess you don’t have to support your leader’s decision. You can quit. But if you always choose quitting, you’re going to build up a lengthy resume of short-term positions very quickly.

Now, I’m not talking about unethical, immoral, or dangerous decisions. I’m talking about decisions that are matters of opinion on things like company direction or new products or service offerings.

I’ve observed a lot of leaders lately who struggle with supporting their leaders’ decisions. If they don’t agree with the decision (and their leader continues with the decision after they’ve voiced their objections), they don’t work to support the message and create buy-in. They blame the leader for the poor decision then wait for their prediction of failure to come to fruition.

There’s more than a few dangers to this approach.

  • It’s your job to make things happen. In most companies, one or a few people get to make the really big decisions. Everyone else’s job is to take action to support those decisions.
  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Leaders don’t always base every decision on hard data. Sometimes it comes down to gut feelings or past experiences or where their passion lies. That doesn’t make their decision wrong.
  • It breeds dissention and distrust. There is no quicker way to create major discontent inside an organization than to stir up a loss of faith and trust in the company’s leadership.

So, when do you speak up, and what should you do when you disagree with your leader’s decision? I’m reminded of the quote by Colin Powell that offers sage advice:

“When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”

As a leader, I cannot agree more. I want my leaders to debate me, to question my thought process, to get me to look at the other side or the other ways it could end. However, once I make a decision, I need my leaders to support it. I need them to go back to their teams and to create buy-in for the decision so that we can all continue moving forward as a team.

Does that mean that I make the right decision 100 percent of the time? No, of course not. But I can say that I make every decision with the best interests of our organization, our customers, and our employees in mind. I have a pretty good track record of making the right call. And I try to learn from my mistakes.

What decisions has your leader made that you’re struggling to support? How can you create buy-in for those decisions?

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