7 Ways I’m Learning to “Disagree and Commit”

Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame wrote a well-circulated article to his shareholders. You can read it here: Jeff Bezos’ Shareholder Letter

In my industry of church, the implications of his letter are equally important. My guess is any industry where leadership is required to make decisions would benefit from adopting a version of these ideas (that’s everyone, btw).

When our leadership team discussed this article, we spent some time on what Jeff calls “High-Velocity Decision Making.” Within this section, he tells a story of how he disagreed with a specific direction one team was taking, but after voicing his opinion through several heated conversations, he decided to “disagree and commit.”

That simple phrase, “disagree and commit,” hit home for many of us, including me. It is certainly an empowering concept in leadership — empowering because it frees those in our organization to move forward without requiring consensus and without the usual ramifications. Obviously, having consensus is helpful, but it’s elusive. Let’s be honest — all leaders have opinions, and the odds of everyone’s opinion aligning for consensus is relatively small. That’s why being able to commit, even without consensus, is empowering. As for ramifications? Being able to decide and move forward without fear of leadership reprisal is even more empowering.

As a leader myself with plenty of opinions, Jeff’s advice rings true. Here’s how I am personally trying to follow his “disagree and commit” mantra, and what I’m hoping it does for our church:

1. When people have ideas, I am trying to give everyone more space to process and time to implement.

If there is something in me that initially disagrees with a possible decision, I want to create space for me to process and the other person to dig deeper. Disagreement might be a sign that something is wrong or missing from our decision process. Margin is a friend to decisions. If we don’t have to decide in that minute, I’d rather take another minute.

2. I’m trying to ascertain the significance of every decision with which I disagree.

Listen, not every decision is life or death. In fact, very few organizational decisions are that significant. If a decision isn’t going to set a new direction or require substantial people or dollars, then it’s a great opportunity to disagree and commit. If the worst that can happen isn’t all that bad, then committing while disagreeing might be a better teaching moment than being right and not allowing another leader to learn on the job.

Of course, if the decision could burn the building down, then I’ll probably ask everyone else to disagree with me and commit in my direction!

3. It goes both ways.

Speaking of committing to my direction… As a leader, I want to be more open to committing to others even if we see a decision differently. But the inverse is just as true. This thinking can’t be one-sided.

4. When I don’t agree, I’m not required to commit (but I try to commit every time I can).

Every leader is still responsible for the welfare of the organization. We can’t disagree and commit to everything. That’s important. This new way of thinking can’t become our only option in a disagreement. Just because we can disagree and commit doesn’t mean we always should. Typically, there is a reason you’ve been placed in a leadership position.

5. I’m trying to balance how often I tell people I’m willing to “disagree and commit.”

It’s funny. The minute you begin doing this, it sets an expectation that you’ll always and forever do it. Just because I disagreed and committed yesterday with her doesn’t mean I’ll do it today with you. Each decision is unique, and therefore must be evaluated individually. I guess like life, “disagree and commit” isn’t always fair.

6. I’m trying to decide how often to tell people I did disagree and commit.

Not in an “I told you so way,” but I have found that I disagree and commit much more than I tell people that I disagreed and committed. Our church is large. With over 60 staff members, decisions are happening every single day. I can’t imagine it would be helpful to inform people every single time I don’t agree, even if I am willing to commit. I wouldn’t want a boss doing that to me.

Of course, the flip side is people may begin to believe you never disagree and commit if you never tell them you are doing it. I guess that’s an ongoing tension to manage.

7. I’m trying to remind people (and me) that disagreeing and committing isn’t the same as not asking questions and investigating.

This isn’t about “committing” alone, it’s about “disagreeing” and then “committing.” We can’t disagree unless we debate, investigate, debate some more, and then decide. Waiting for consensus isn’t healthy, but neither is committing without debate and possible disagreement.

I love Jeff’s idea, and even more, I love the verbiage he has attached to the principle. Disagreeing and committing is a tension to manage, but I believe it’s making our church better in the process.

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