Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

with 8 comments

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 29.95 USD

If you would like to learn more about the intellectual honesty and openness of the great American leaders through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.


Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreward Reviews’ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

April 3, 2012 at 11:44 am

8 Responses

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  1. Great contribution Timothy.

    “Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”. Adding even desirable after the word necessary greatly weakens the statement. But then that was Drucker.

    Rickover was much clearer and having worked in his nuclear Navy I can certify that Rickover was extremely effective at creating such a culture.

    Dissent and conflict are necessary goals, but the problem is that the vast majority of organizations are unable to achieve them.

    So how does an executive achieve such a lofty goal? Easy! Just treat employees with the greatest respect by fulfilling their needs and they will unleash a torrent of creativity, innovation and productivity of almost unbelievable proportions.

    I know because once I eschewed the top-down approach to managing people and started truly listening to them and responding respectfully to them. The more I did this the better they performed. In fact, productivity per person rose over 300% and employees literally loved to come to work.

    Best regards, Ben Simonton
    leadership is a science and so is engagement

    Ben Simonton

    April 4, 2012 at 9:19 am

  2. I cannot but agree with Drucker – otherwise it would be sort of pretentious. I remember one of my favorite phrases if taken into a specific context, it says something like this: “Into every tidy scheme for arranging the pattern of human life, it is necessary to inject a certain dose of anarchism” (Bertrand Russell)

    Frank Escandell

    April 10, 2012 at 3:03 am

  3. […] A recent post on this topic on the blog “Leaders to Leaders” addresses the need for contrary and opposing views within organizations. One quote in particular caught my eye: […]

  4. […] A recent post on this topic on the blog “Leaders to Leaders” addresses the need for contrary and opposing views within organizations. One quote in particular caught my eye: […]

  5. […] “Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable” […]

  6. […] “Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable” […]

  7. […] “Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable” […]

  8. […] “Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable” […]

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