Loyalty and Disagreement: How To Deal With Your Leader


July 18, 2012

“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.”  ~Colin Powell

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I happen to work at an organization and with someone with whom I feel completely comfortable sharing my ideas and opinions without fear of disagreeing.  Not everyone has this luxury though and there have been times in my career where I worked for someone that I strongly disagreed with.

There are many times in the course of your career that you find yourself at odds with what your leader deems as the best course of action.  The issue becomes what to do when those situations arise.  What if you don’t have a relationship where you can be open and honest?  What if your opinion falls on deaf ears?  At what point do you need to stop debating and “get with the program”?

evaluate and decide

What is the basis of the disagreement?  When I coach and counsel employees, one of the first things we analyze is whether they are getting upset about a specific situation that deserves their passion and attention or whether they are upset about the leader’s style in general.  Knowing that gives a basis to start working through it.  A majority of times, if you are upset about how a specific situation is handled or how a decision is made, it is easier to talk yourself thought that it is just a one-time situation that may not require as much time and energy in disagreement.  The converse are those times when you have a leader that you disagree with their style of managing.  I have had those bosses too and ultimately had to ask myself some hard questions on whether or not I could change my behavior.

Change MY behavior?  Does that sound counter-intuitive?  Well, the sooner we remember we cannot change someone else’s behavior, only our reaction to it, the sooner we can either work with that person or decide to move on.

Do you have the same values as your leader?  This is a key question to ask yourself.  Most bosses do not come to work thinking that they would like to make your day as miserable as possible.  As a leader myself, there are always going to be times when the team does not know everything that the leader is working on or what all goes into certain decisions behind the scenes.  What you have to do is determine if you TRUST your leader enough to work through the times when you are not privy to all the behind the scenes information.  If you do not have trust for that leader, it could be your time to make a change.

Are you able to bring your concerns or your differing opinion forward?  I think it is important to be able to work for a leader with whom you can give your honest feedback.  Some leaders are not interested in listening though.  A book I’ve found helpful in coaching me though the delivery of my message is the tried-and-true How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  My message to my leader doesn’t change, my delivery does.  It’s an effective way to get your boss to listen in a way that does not put them on the defense.

loyalty and execution

Once you evaluate your situation and decide that you are willing to do what it takes on your end of the relationship to improve delivery of your feedback, you should start to see a different, and more positive response from your boss.  If you can deliver your opposing views without putting that person on the defensive, you may just be able to persuade a change in the decision.

The important thing to remember is there comes a time for all of us that we must stop debating and get on board with the leader’s decision.  This does not mean going through the motions but still undermining the decision behind that person’s back.  As Colin Powell said, it means executing the decision as if it were your own.  Being loyal means you have to give your trust over to that leader and support his or her decisions.

How have you seen this play out in the workplace?  What do you do when you disagree with your boss or another leader?  Share your tips in the comments. 

One Comment

  • As a principal of a school, I’ve had the opportunity to lead teams. The best coaching advice I ever got was to make sure you tell your team what your vision is and make sure what you do is an illustration of your vision. Leaders have a responsibility to make sure that the vision is clear even if one cannot give out all the details.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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