[May 7, 2019] An old army buddy of mine used to say that it’s “better to quarrel with someone you disagree with, than to agree with someone you see eye-to-eye.” He believed that to be a great leader, you had to sharpen your skills through open debate, sober judgments, and hard-won ideas. To find those who will disagree is a good thing.
“It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.” – Pete Seeger, American folk singer
Good leaders seek out those who will oppose or disagree with them. The greater the opposition or disagreement, the better. They do this because they recognize several important facts. Those who disagree with you can:
- Teach you something that you do not know.
- Show you new and creative skills.
- Hone your opinions.
- Improve your resilience to new ideas and different ways of thinking.
Leaders who want to be better never stop learning. Those at the apex of their profession improve only through discussions with others that are at odds with them. Most people are repelled by such an idea. Why they say, should I discuss important issues with people who do not agree with me? Are there some psychologically innate characteristics that make us resist it?
As a child, my army buddy learned something valuable that stuck with him. As a young boy on the Junior High wrestling team, he was often paired with a larger, stronger boy. The wrestling coach told him that to improve he was expected to wrestle with other boys better than him. You cannot learn from those who have nothing to teach.
Yes, my friend lost most of the training rounds in wrestling. He won more of the head-to-head competitions against other schools. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that the better wrestlers were teaching him tricks he did not know, making him stronger each time he competed.
The same idea applies to our leadership “fighting” ability. The more we fight with – argue and debate – the more we improve. Coaches today try to pair wrestlers with others at a similar skill and physical size levels and then wonder why their athletes are not getting better. I’m told that this type of thinking is common.1 But it doesn’t make for better wrestlers.