Ingaged Leadership: Why Too Much Agreement Can Kill Progress

YESDid everyone agree with everything you said at the last meeting of your top executive team? Did everybody follow the directions you gave, without objecting or contributing new ideas?

If you answered yes to those questions, you could be leading a team of people who like to avoid conflict by agreeing with everything you say. And people who agree with everything you say stifle your progress for many reasons. Here are two of the biggest:

  • They don’t tell you what you need to hear. They could be filling you in about what is taking place in their work and the world. But instead, they self-censor. You never hear the critical information you need to make informed, reality-based decisions.
  • They agree to do things they know are wrong. What’s the point of objecting when they have been shut down in the past or have simply become lazy? And on the flip side, they avoid suggesting things they know to be right. 

Why Do Some Executives Become Addicted to Agreement? 

Here are two reasons why some leaders fall into the trap of fostering unproductive agreement:

  • Leaders tend to like and hire people who are just like they are. If you were a top salesperson who got promoted into upper management, for example, maybe you like to surround yourself with sales professionals. That feels right, but you really need a balanced team or people with varied strengths.
  • It is faster and easier to lead a team of “yes people.” Everyone agrees, and that feels good. But agreement doesn’t equal progress. Forward motion stalls when critical information and ideas are never heard.

Let’s Turn Agreement into Progress 

Here are some ways to build a team of individuals who have the guts to challenge you – and themselves – to dare greatly and accomplish important things:

  • Consistently highlight and encourage people who bring new ideas or argue for a “con” position. In every meeting or other context, strive to open people up in this way, not shut them down.
  • Challenge the team to develop both pro and con thoughts on key issues that are under discussion. This allows people a safe and non-confrontational way to share opposing of challenging viewpoints.
  • Talk about what good teamwork really is – a process through which different perspectives are heard and stronger plans emerge. To explore this topic more, I recommend the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. It offers deep insight into what a great team is, about the importance of getting every member to play a role, and about the fact that trust is the foundation of productive teamwork. Highly recommended.
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