Are You Surrounded by Bobbleheads?

One of my favorite bloggers is Dan Rockwell — The Leadership Freak.  Dan concentrates on writing short bits designed to make leaders think about the overall health of their organizations.  Recently, Dan wrote an important bit about the role that disagreement should play in decision-making.

His central argument:  The best decisions depend on the willingness of leaders to elicit disagreement from their employees.  He writes:

Agreement hinders effective decision-making.  The bobble-heads that surround leaders may soothe the leader’s ego, but they harm organizations.

He also writes:

Decisions aren’t decisions until there are at least two viable options on the table.

Those are important notions, y’all — particularly in schools, where disagreement is often seen as disrespectful and where keeping the peace is almost always our first priority.  We tend to smile and nod our way through difficult conversations, hoping to move forward quickly instead of readily embracing competing ideas.  The simple truth is that the intellectual and social tension that comes with any kind of perceived conflict — including the conflict that comes the moment we disagree with one another — is something that we just aren’t prepared to wrestle with.

And that has to change.


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  • Donna Fry

    “It’s all about relationships”

    The constant mantra that "it's all about relationships" can support this continued belief that those who disagree are "not team players".  

    In education, we sometimes brand those with innovative ideas as "rogues" who don't follow linear models of system learning and implementation.

    School leaders who need to use pressure (and support) to try to build competence can be seen as leaders "who don't build relationships" rather that leaders who "put the learning of all students at the center of their work".

    Relationships are critical to any public organization, but not at the expense of student learning. 

    Thanks for this!

  • CarlDraeger

    Disagreement isn’t all bad.

    “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton 

    Bill, thanks for bringing up the need to NOT follow along like lemmings. Personally, I do not enjoy conflict. I do all I can to ensure equity of voice and sensitivity to alternatives, yet I sometimes pay the price of avoiding mucking up the pool too much. Of course it is in the chaos of divergency that new ideas emerge.  Remember that at one time there was consensus that the Earth was flat. It takes the courage and energy to overcome the inertia of complacency. The dreamers of this world are not constrained by ‘what is’ as they envision ‘what could be’. Much of the work of bridging the reality to the new hope lies in volatile discourse. If we are too afraid to upset the apple cart, then we may lose the very solution we need.


    Well-crafted relationships provide safety to disagree; to not confuse disagreement with hate; or alternative views with revolution. If we have good relationships, we are able to ask, “Why do you think that will have a positive impact on students’ learning?” instead of “Why do want to undo years of my work?” Without relationships, you’ve got bupkis. Without disagreement you have little growth.