Why Small Business Leaders Must be Ok with Disagreement

One of my clients is the CEO of a small business that was doing very well. The business had been around for 20 years and had grown to a modest level in that time. At one point she felt the growth had become too stagnant and she felt she needed to make some changes in order to take the business to the next level. The problem was that those changes were bound to anger some of her staff.

And she was a people pleaser.

Luckily for her she had not been forced to make any really tough decisions up until this point. It’s hard to believe that with a business that had been around that long she had been able to suceed without making hard decisions but she had. She had hired an amazing staff that supported her vision and was able to help her through tough times.

But this time was different.

She had presented a few options to employees and she knew that the one she felt strongly about a few key employees did not agree with. She called me to talk through how she could get her employees on board once she announced the decision.

We talked through ways she could communicate the change in a manner that would help her employees hear her message and hopefully buy-in. We worked through a pretty thorough communication timeline that included sharing the change with both internal and external shareholders. She seemed pleased with our plan but right before launch I wanted to make sure she understood one very real potential.

Even with all of our carefully planned wording and thoughtful plan, some employees may still be angry.

When I said this she looked at my wide-eyed. She had convinced herself that because employees would see how thoughtful we had been in our plan they would get on board. She though that since we had explained the reasons which made absolute sense to her, the employees would agree fully.

She hadn’t let herself think that employees could still be angry and the idea really bothered her.

We then had to have a long talk about how it was ok if employees disagreed with her decision. We talked about how being a leader, quite frankly, means that sometimes you piss people off. My fear was that if she wasn’t ok with people being angry she would cave and give into those employees who may be angry. I did not want to see her go back on a decision she truly believed in simply because a few employees may be pissed off. It was the right decision and I wanted her to stick with it.

The communication plan was delivered and all of our planning paid off. A few employees admitted that when she had originally thrown out the idea they weren’t thrilled, but after hearing her reasons and vision for the future they were on board.

And as expected one particular employee was angry. The meeting was nearly over when a long-term, highly influential employee voiced her concern and very bluntly announced she did not agree. I watched my client’s face because this was the moment of truth. I couldn’t have been more proud when she responded that while she would be happy to hear anyone’s concerns, this was the decision and she would not be changing her mind. She also said that she realized it may take some employees longer to get on board and she was ok with that.

I was like a proud parent.

As a leader, and in-particular, the leader of a small business, you may have already realized that there are going to be times when your employees do not agree with you. Hopefully you’ve also realized that it’s ok if they don’t. Sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions and if those are the right decisions to make then they must follow through no matter how the crowd reacts. It can be uncomfortable, it can be frustrating, but it’s part of leadership.

No matter how long you are able to do it initially, pleasing everyone is simply not a sustainable leadership model. At one point people are going to disagree with you and that has to be ok.

Some would even say it’s a sign of doing things right.

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