Sunday, March 30, 2008

Leading by Encouraging Disagreement?

If you're a leader in any capacity, you know how difficult it can be to get others to agree with your point of view. Much of our time is often spent figuring out how to influence and convince those we lead, especially when we're faced with crucial decisions. But, have you considered that you ought to spend more time encouraging disagreement or opposing viewpoints?

In this Harvard Business School article, Garry Emmons points out how important it is to facilitate dissenting viewpoints when engaging important decisions. He also notes how even experienced leaders often falter when they make no room for disagreement.

"Consider the costs to organizations, large and small, when dissent does not or cannot surface: Abjuring rigorous debate about its merits, a youthful president John F. Kennedy essentially rubber-stamped a 1961 plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, resulting in one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy fiascoes in decades. During a 1996 commercial expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest, several climbers, including two of the world's most experienced professionals, died in part because junior team members didn't speak up when their expert leaders ignored their own core operating principles surrounding safety."

The truth is that most of us do not want to "rock the boat". We prefer to "go with the flow" when a consensus opinion is established. I think it is part of our fallen nature to do so - we love the praise of men, preferring others to think well of us, rather than to express honest disagreement.

Yet, if you believe what Emmons is saying, it is the wise leader who makes room for constructive dissent and pursues alternative viewpoints. In some ways, it's unnatural to do so but it's essential to mature leadership and it's the gospel minded leader who is best able to cultivate this approach to decision making. Here are a couple of reasons why:

First, it takes true humility to pursue and make room for alternative opinions in your collaborative process. While it's true that decision making isn't best accomplished "by committee", a humble, gospel informed world-view helps us recognize our limitations. No matter how sure we may be, it is possible that we may be wrong and the Bible offers much encouragement to seek the advice of others... even when the advice does not line up with our own views.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
(Proverbs 15:22)

Second, it also takes real courage to honestly pursue other opinions. Encouraging "dissent in decision making" means potentially exposing your errors. It means having a disregard for our own reputation while we seek for the best possible solution. Frankly, most of us do not naturally possess the kind of courage needed to put our own reputations on the line. Perhaps we fear rejection... or we may fear the loss of respect... for some of us, we fear facing our limitations.

The gospel can help us here. Our fears are mitigated by the gospel reminders that we're lovingly accepted by God - He is on our side for our good, regardless of our performance.

We can be bold in seeking help from others, making room for opposing views, confident that God will work all things for our good, even disagreements.

How good are you at encouraging others to disagree and giving them freedom to do so?

For a future post, perhaps I'll discuss the following:

What does the Bible have to say about constructive disagreement? Can Christians honestly disagree and how should we engage this process?
What about the biblical reproof against dissension in the church? How does that play into what we're saying here?

Of course, I'll probably be wrong but I'll have friends who won't be afraid to tell me...if I'm willing to ask.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quote of the Week

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

Jesus Christ (John 11:25-26)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Eliot Spitzer, Us and the Grace of God

I've held off blogging about Eliot Spitzer, in part because much of the initial reaction from the mass media was unprofitable and salacious. However, when a number of men gathered at my home for an accountability meeting last week, we took opportunity to briefly discuss it.

Unlike what was communicated on news channels all week long, at our meeting there was no gloating over a powerful, arrogant man who simply "got what he deserved". There was no self righteous musing over how someone so smart could "self destruct" so publicly. We didn't wonder how the former crusading governor known as "Mr Clean", could have lived a double life.

We didn't do that because we simply know better - we know ourselves and we know the nature of sin. We understand that we're more like Eliot Spitzer than we'd like to acknowledge. We're aware of the deceitfulness of sin and our propensity as fallen men to wander from the grace of God. We know that it's the grace of God that keeps us from self destructing. As one of the men in our group said - "That could be me, it could be any of's God's mercy that He rescued us from the penalty and power of's God's grace that keeps us in Him and keeps us from falling..."

The meeting gave me much to think about. I'm grateful for men who speak words of gospel truth to me - reminding me of how the grace of Jesus Christ has shed light upon my darkened heart. It is also evidence of God's kindness to us as Christians. When God places us in the community of a church, He does so to protect us and care for us.

Don't you wonder how different it might have been for Eliot Spitzer if he had the benefit of such grace? Last week, amidst much of the news about Spitzer, this is what I read from Psalm 32:1

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Eliot Spitzer had so much - power, career, fame, wealth. However, as far as we know, he didn't possess what was most important - he didn't have sins covered, a clean conscience and peace with God. Perhaps we should pray for him, that through this trial, he might be drawn to the One who offers these priceless mercies.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Quote of the Week

"The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of the triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).
The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

John Piper, Hunger for God, p.14