7 Ways I’m Learning to “Disagree and Commit”


5 Minute Read…

In 2016, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame wrote a well-circulated article to his shareholders. You can read it here: Jeff Bezos’ Shareholder Letter.

In my industry of church, the implications of his letter are equally important. My guess is any industry where leadership decisions are required would benefit from adopting a version of these ideas (that’s everyone, btw).

When our leadership team discussed this article, we spent some time on what Jeff calls “High-Velocity Decision Making.” In this section, he tells a story of how he disagreed with a specific direction one team was taking. Still, after voicing his opinion through several heated conversations, he decided to “disagree and commit.”

That simple phrase, “disagree and commit,” hit home for many of us, including me. It’s an empowering concept in leadership — empowering because it frees those in our organization to move forward without requiring consensus and without the usual ramifications. Having complete agreement is helpful, but it’s elusive. Let’s be honest — all leaders have opinions, and the odds of everyone’s opinion aligning for consensus is relatively small. That’s why being able to commit, even without consensus, is empowering. As for ramifications? Being able to decide and move forward without fear of leadership reprisal is even more empowering.

As a leader myself with plenty of opinions, Jeff’s advice rings true. Here’s how I am personally trying to follow his “disagree and commit” mantra and what I’m hoping it does for our church:

1. When people present ideas that generate disagreement, I hope to give myself and our team more margin to process.

If something in me initially disagrees with a proposed decision, I hope to create more margin to process before deciding. Disagreement might be a sign that something is wrong or missing from our decision process. My disagreement may also be a sign that I’m not seeing the opportunity correctly. Good decisions need margin. As a leader, we shouldn’t disagree and commit flippantly.

2. When I disagree, committing becomes easier when I consider the significance of the pending decision.

Listen, not every decision is life or death. Very few organizational decisions are that significant and demand consensus. If a decision isn’t going to set a new direction or require substantial people or dollars, then it’s an excellent opportunity for me to disagree and commit. If the worst that can happen isn’t all that bad, making a point by being “right” might not be best. And hey, I might be wrong! It happens frequently.

3. Committing goes both ways.

I want to be more open to committing to others even if we see a decision differently. But the inverse is just as true. This thinking can’t be one-sided. I want to better disagree and commit, and I want others to do the same in turn. Those who report to me can always present a counterargument, but like me, they need to at times disagree with me and still commit to the decision. When we as leaders go first, though, we help others follow our lead.

4. When I don’t agree, I’m not required to commit (but I try to commit every time I can).

Every leader is still responsible for the welfare of the organization. Even though it’s a helpful mantra, we can’t disagree and commit every time. That’s important. This new way of thinking can’t become our only option in a disagreement. Just because we can disagree and commit doesn’t mean we always should. Typically, there is a reason you’ve been placed in a leadership position. Commit every time you can. But you don’t have to every time.

5. I’m trying to balance how often I tell people I’m willing to “disagree and commit.”

It’s funny. The minute you begin doing this, it sets an expectation that you’ll always and forever do it. Just because I disagreed and committed yesterday with her doesn’t mean I’ll do it today with you. Each decision is unique, and therefore must be evaluated individually. I guess like life, “disagree and commit” isn’t always fair.

6. I’m trying to decide how often to tell people I did disagree and commit.

Not in an “I told you so way,” but I have found that I disagree and commit much more than I tell people that I disagreed and committed. Our church is large. With over 60 staff members, decisions are happening every single day. I can’t imagine it would be helpful to inform people every single time I don’t agree, even if I am willing to commit. I wouldn’t want a boss doing that to me.

Of course, the flip side is people may begin to believe you never disagree and commit if you never tell them you are doing it. I guess that’s an ongoing tension to manage. We shouldn’t announce our disagree and commit position every time, but we need to from time to time.

7. I’m trying to remind people (and me) that disagreeing and committing doesn’t mean we stop investigating and debating.

This isn’t about “committing” alone, it’s about “disagreeing” and then “committing.” We can’t disagree unless we debate, investigate, debate some more, and then decide. Requiring consensus is unhealthy, and so is committing without debate and possible disagreement.

I love Jeff’s idea, and even more, I love the verbiage he has attached to the principle. Disagreeing and committing is a tension to manage, and it is making our church better.

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