There comes a time in every business leader’s tenure that we
feel the urge to participate in a debate in an open forum. We can be involved
with senior management, peers or subordinates. The issues can be competition
for resources, strategic business directions, or just about anything at all. Entering
into the debate can be a very difficult urge to fight. The value of these types
of public debates is minimal, but the damage that can occur to ones public
perception can be significant.
Before engaging in a debate, it pays to remember a few
items. Everyone believes they are correct. No one enters into an argument
believing they are wrong. Most arguments are not black/white, right/wrong
propositions. They probably shouldn’t be forced into that mold either. The
“winning” or “losing” of the public debate will be forgotten over time, but the
perception of being combative or argumentative will stay with you for a long
Management looks for leaders that are opinionated and
passionate about their work. They recognize that those traits are keys to a
leader’s success. They also recognize that leaders must work together. If
forced to choose, management will normally select the less confrontational
business leader who can avoid the public debate, and appear to build consensus.
If there is going to be a debate, it needs to be in a private forum, not a
It is a fine line to walk, but it can be done. Learning to disagree politely and constructively in public is an art. I wish I was better at it.