One of the best people I ever worked with was Greg. Greg is a brilliant engineer, and Greg is probably one of the five best analog IC design engineers on the planet.
Greg, like many brilliant engineers, isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. And Greg certainly wasn’t shy about telling me when he disagreed with me.
There was always a smile on Greg’s face as he passionately argued about what he thought we were doing that was wrong.
Greg and I had some fantastic discussions about what we should do. Sometimes he changed my mind, and sometimes I changed his mind. Other times we agreed to disagree.
However, Greg always followed the direction we were going in even if he passionately disagreed with the direction.
Greg never said anything negative to other employees once the decision was made. And Greg continued working hard regardless of whether he agreed with the strategy.
One of my co-founders took a slightly different tack.
“Randy” disagreed with me passionately about various elements of our strategy. Randy was a very talented engineer who brought a lot of value to the company.
Randy and I had very heated arguments about various elements of our strategy. Unlike Greg, Randy complained to other employees when he didn’t get his way.
In short Randy was poisoning the employees of the company. I fired Randy about six months after we got funding because he was a cancer inside the company.
The bottom line is you want to encourage employees to voice their opinions. But everyone needs to support the decision once the decision is made.
The best example I saw of a CEO encouraging disagreement and then getting everyone to follow was Maxim Integrated Products founding CEO, the late Jack Gifford.
To say we had some knockdown drag out fights with Gifford at Maxim was an understatement. Candor was not only encouraged, it was a prerequisite of employment, but…
You’d better know your stuff because Gifford did not suffer fools and Gifford had a fantastic BS detector.
So we all would fight, argue, yell, and curse at each other. Then a decision would be made, and everyone would fall in line.
Now, I am not suggesting using Gifford’s confrontational methodology. There are a lot of negative sides to managing that way.
I am saying that you need to find a way to encourage debate and then get everyone to follow the company’s direction that works for you and your personality.
You absolutely are going to have employees challenge you and your decisions. Trying to stop disagreement is about the worst thing you can do.
Strong leaders understand that having all the brains and all the intellect in the company trying to solve the company’s challenges is much better than just you, the CEO, coming up with every solution.
You want to hear and you want to encourage different opinions. Because you might not be right.
You do need to earn your team’s respect.
Part of how you earn your team’s respect is by truly listening to what they have to say. And who know? Your team might have a better answer than you do.
You’ll never hear that answer if you suppress the natural debate inside a company. So don’t even try.
Instead, you want to have the guts to encourage that debate. Then once a decision is made your team, having been truly heard, should support that decision.
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