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Give me opposition, or give me death: the benefits of those who oppose



Far too many organizations pride themselves on an unhealthy worship of loyalty. "Loyalty above all else" becomes not only a coffee-room mantra, but also a corporate leadership philosophy. Oppose the president's wishes, and you are labeled a traitor. Raise objections in a meeting, and you become the company naysayer. Critique your supervisor's strategic plan, and you are suddenly deemed a malcontent. Shut up, do your job, and smile! That's the employee's role in these dysfunctional hierarchies. Anything more risks rejection or, worse, expulsion.


But what leaders in these sorts of authority cultures fail to recognize are the benefits of opposition! Yes, you heard me correctly...the benefits of opposition. Although it sounds counterintuitive and maybe a bit avant garde, wise leaders realize that loyalty and opposition are not mutually exclusive postures. Indeed, the most loyal employees may be those who throw up roadblocks once in a while, and those who throw up roadblocks once in a while may be extremely beneficial to the business or institution. How? Here are four things to consider:


1. Opposition is most often mission-oriented. Notwithstanding the occasional personal vendetta or backstabbing employee, most people who raise objections are simply thinking of the organizational mission. They are opposing an idea, not the leader. And you never know...maybe there is some merit in their push-back! Consequently, the leader would be wise to consider the content of each objection and, if necessary, alter his plan. It is far better for an organization to have mission success than personal success. The former favors corporate longevity, while obsession with the latter most often leads to individual and/or collective ruin.


2. Opposition holds the leadership accountable. This is probably the number one reason leaders don't like it. But if leaders could just step out of their own personal Truman Shows for a second and think logically, they would realize the long-term benefits of accountability. Accountability ensures that the leaders' weaknesses don't drag the company down. Accountability distributes power throughout the organizational structure so as to avoid concentration and corruption. Accountability engenders respect and trust within the ranks, which improves morale and discipline. And accountability promotes humility, which is one of the highest virtues any leader can attain. All leaders say they want humility, most think they already have it, but only a few actually master it. For those who do, though, there is certain success on the horizon.


3. Opposition makes everyone think more. In an anti-opposition, authoritarian, dictatorial work environment, group think is the norm. The proletariat cattle come in the front door at 8 am, mill around chewing their cud all day long, and then walk the single-file path back to the door at 5 pm. There is little or no innovation, zero motivation or ambition, and energy levels favor time at the water cooler rather than time at the computer. To think outside of the box is to risk . . . so the box remains firmly sealed...all of its edges at right angles, neatly folded and taped. What's inside the box? The world will never know...nor care!


4. Opposition tolerance favors collegiality. When people feel like they are truly part of the team, they will give their best time and talents to that team. And how better to foster team than to allow people a voice! Take away your employees' ability to speak up, and, yes, things will seem calm and controlled on the surface, but underneath, the webbed feet of discontent and rebellion will be propelling the organization toward things like high employee turnover rates, increased absenteeism, and general unproductiveness...all of which have negative fiscal and functional repercussions for everyone.


Now, don't rush off to the next board meeting, town hall, or one-on-one with the boss and list all of your objections. Unless she is one of that rare breed of leaders who thinks in non-traditional ways, your outside-of-the-box thinking may result in her giving you a box to put things inside. But when you're the boss, think differently...behave differently. Take to task the notion of hyper-loyalty and embrace your opposition! Indeed, oppose your own instincts to attack the attacker and, instead, welcome him. In the long run, you'll be glad you did...and your employees will respect and follow you willingly, which...let's face it...are the true marks of leadership.

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