“We’ll Just Agree to Disagree”

A CEO was having a discussion with one of his top executives a few weeks ago. He felt strongly that the executive needed to take a certain course of action as soon as possible. The Vice President explained that the situation was well in hand, and that no action was necessary at this time.

As the meeting ended, the CEO finished up with a strong plea for action. “I really feel that you need to do something immediately,” he said. The Vice President parted with the comment “Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

The CEO sat mentally reviewing the meeting. After a few minutes, he dialed the Vice President’s extension and asked her to return to his office.

disagreement“Saying that we agree to disagree is not a satisfactory outcome to our discussion,” he said. “It means that you either are not going to take the action that I feel is necessary, or you will do so reluctantly and without expectations for its success. Either approach indicates that you aren’t on board with the plan, and will give it less than your very best effort.”

No one makes the Vice Presidential level in this CEO’s company without considerable talent and expertise. The executive argued that she was the resident expert in her field, and frankly was better qualified than the CEO to make decisions in this specific area . She felt that her experience wasn’t being recognized in the decision process. Quite simply, this is what she had been hired for, and she thought that overruling her preferences was a mistake.

We all hope to find talented employees who make decisions, and who are willing to challenge us when they disagree. Clearly, the CEO has the ability to direct her action, but when does that direction cross the line between guiding the company and disempowering the employee?

It’s when the employee doesn’t understand why.

My friend Larry Linne talks about the outcomes of employee’s decisions. No matter how well meaning, a bad outcome may or may not be the employee’s fault, but its consequences are always all yours. There are four reasons why an employee doesn’t understand your why for making a decision.

  1. You can’t afford a mistake. The employee either underestimates the risk of the decision, or is overconfident of his/her ability to overcome the obstacles. You see potential outcomes that could be disastrous.
  2. It doesn’t fit your strategy. The decision isn’t bad per se, but it goes down a road that will require resources that you have planned to allocate elsewhere.
  3. It doesn’t fit your team. The decision will create a need for other employees to shift or accommodate new challenges, creating ripples that the employee is either ignoring or unaware of.
  4. It fails the Third Eye test. As I discuss in my new book (linked here and below) the Third Eye is your ability to see where you want your company to go. You may not be able to see it clearly, and you may not be able to fully describe it, but you instinctively know what fits your vision and what doesn’t.

Using your authority to overrule an employee who legitimately disagrees is the worst way to solve the problem. His or her decision may not even be wrong, it just doesn’t fit what you want for your business. Explaining why you chose another course of action may take some time, and may even require that you go deeper into sharing your thinking with that employee than you had planned, but it’s a lot better than mere reluctant obedience.


My new book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an  Entrepreneur, is now available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover and Kindle. It is an ownership book, not a management book, and is illustrated with the stories of real entrepreneurs who faced challenges that apply to us all.

Categories: Entrepreneurship, Incentives, Leadership, Managing Employees, Strategy and Planning... Bookmark this post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *