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Constructive Disagreement

In any endeavor involving more than one person there is bound to be disagreement. How that disagreement is viewed and handled makes all the difference. Great leaders from Abraham Lincoln to Ray Dalio have known that disagreement is a good thing and have intentionally surrounded themselves with people of opposing viewpoints, as Doris Kearns Goodwin describes in Team of Rivals, her biography of Abraham Lincoln, and as Ray Dalio describes in his new book Principles about how he built the largest hedge fund in the world.

Both leaders understood that group-thinking can produce better and more innovative solutions than individual thinking, and that opposing views should be embraced, not shunned. Dalio talks about being radically open-minded and of giving everyone in the room a voice. The key is to have constructive disagreement in which everyone’s commitment is to the mission, not their individual agendas.

Jim Collins identifies similar characteristics in his business classic, Good to Great. Collins describes the leadership of all the great companies he studied as having two primary characteristics: humility and intense professional will. Humility is the acknowledgment that I don’t know it all and that I can learn from others. Professional will is the desire to do what’s right for the organization versus focusing on the individual.

As we build the Sailing Science Center I am actively seeking people who challenge the status quo and who have diverse backgrounds, abilities and skills. But we also need common ground, which has to include our core values and our passion for the mission. So, I say, bring on the disagreement, but always make it constructive.

Lastly, I will take a page from John Maxwell's Thinking for a Change, where he says that when a team member comes to him with a problem, he insists that they also supply three solutions, at least one of which involves the person pointing out the problem.

Abraham Lincoln

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