Good Leaders find those who Will Disagree

[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:

  1. Teach you something that you do not know.
  2. Show you new and creative skills.
  3. Hone your opinions.
  4. 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.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Good Leaders find those who Will Disagree

  1. Mikka Solarno

    We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like.

  2. Edward Kennedy III

    It should come as no surprise that some of the best people in our country were those who fought for our nation in some of its most difficult wars. Combat is the ultimate test of “disagreement” that man can find. To fight and survive means you are now better in many ways.

      1. Greg Heyman

        Yes! Please invite him back for another Guest Post. Thanks.

    1. Bryan Lee

      I’m a big fan of yours Mr. Kennedy. Please write more for us here in Gen. Satterfield’s blog !!!!

  3. Len Jakosky

    “He who cannot put his thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of dispute.” by Friedrich Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits

    1. Xerxes I

      Yes, can we disagree graciously? I am tired of people not knowing the volume of their power.

  4. Scotty Bush

    I didn’t realize where you were going with this article based on the title. Well done! Enjoyed it. Your friend must have been a really smart guy.

  5. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Gen Satterfield noted in an earlier article that psychologists suggest that one of the main priorities of parents is to teach their children how to be likable. The only way for kids to learn this is by interacting with other kids. You must show them that when things don’t go their way, that they are actually better off because it teaches them patience and empathy.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Correct. I think he referenced Dr. Jorden Peterson from the University of Toronto.

  6. Yusaf from Texas

    “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions.”
    (Essay to Leo Baeck, 1953)”
    ― Albert Einstein

    1. Anita

      Great quote from a great and insightful man.

  7. Joey Holmes

    I like today’s article. My dad read it too. Cheers.

  8. Dale Paul Fox

    I’m enjoying some really nice Spring weather this morning while drinking my coffee and sitting next to my dog. My dog is having a great day too. What I wanted to say, however, is that I spent my life bouncing up against some truly remarkable people. They were quick to point out my weaknesses and help me along. They did that because they saw I had no fear of getting into the mix and wanted to be a better person. I worked hard, stayed out of trouble (reasonably so), and showed that I wanted to be better than I was.

    1. Mr. T.J. Asper

      This is what I keep telling my High School students. Eventually, these ideas will sink in.

    2. Billy Kenningston

      Liked your comment. You get three smileys! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  9. Army Captain

    Another great article. Yes (emphasis on the word, YES), it is important to improve our abilities and that can only be accomplished by pushing ourselves. Usually best done by going up against those who are better than us.

  10. Janna Faulkner

    It is ironic that yesterday in your DAILY FAVORITES you linked to two articles that demonstrate Google leadership censoring speech (usually conservative speech) and reading today’s article. Google sure is not looking for those that disagree with them.

    1. Albert Ayer

      Nazi book burning and Google censorship. Is there a difference?

      1. Ronny Fisher

        Point well taken, Albert. Too bad the study of real history is no longer encouraged.

      2. JT Patterson

        🙂 Couldn’t have said it better. Nazi style acts was no different than Google and for the same reasons.

    2. Gil Johnson

      Good points, Janna and Albert. Censorship never really works well. Maybe temporarily but eventually it gets out anyway. The best way to deal with bad ideas is to expose them to sunlight (and maybe a little ridicule).

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