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:

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How to Make Great Decision without any Clarity

As a leader, have you ever struggled with a decision?

If you lead or have ever led anything, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” Making decisions is crucial to leading. Making decisions is an inseparable part of leadership. Leaders who cease to made decisions abdicate their leadership.

Of course, some decisions are obvious, some are more challenging, and some are absolutely daunting. The decisions leaders face during times of transitions, whether personal or organizational, are often the most difficult. The reason is simple:

Transitions bring cloudy conditions.

Great decisions are only possible when we have clarity — clarity of the situation, problem, possible solutions, and ramifications. Clarity is essential, but as every leader knows, when seasons give way to what’s next, the transition creates conditions that work directly against clear decisions.

Transitions are cloudy because they happen between what is known and what is next. What is known is often clear, but what’s next is typically new. New always has an element of unknown, and unknown is often unclear. It’s like driving our car into a dense fog. When you can barely see, it makes driving nearly impossible. If the fog grows dense enough, moving forward ceases to be a viable option.

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When What You Want To Do is Different Than What You Need To Do

What makes leadership difficult?

We could probably create a laundry list of great answers.

For me, point decision-making certainly fits on the list. A level of decisiveness is required for leadership, but while some decisions are routine and simple, others are unfamiliar and complex. For me, the most difficult decisions rise when what I want to do is different than what I need to do.

Have you ever faced a decision that lived in the middle of this tension? Through my years of leading companies and churches, I’ve faced more than a few decisions where what I wanted to do was different than what I needed to do. For instance, there have been times I’ve wanted to keep a staff member, but they needed to move on to new opportunities (that’s a nice way to say it, right?). There have been times I’ve wanted to include everyone on a team, but not everyone provided value to the team. There have been times when I wanted to eat chicken fingers rather than a salad (see, it works in all facets of life!).

I believe the willingness to make tough decisions is a key indicator of sustainable leadership. 

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