Why it’s always ok to disagree with your boss

December 10, 2014, 4:50 PM UTC
FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit - Day 2
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: Founder and CEO, Gap International Pontish Yeramyan speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for FORTUNE)
Photograph by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week we ask: How do you disagree with your boss? The following answer is by Pontish Yeramyan, founder and CEO of Gap International.

It’s always OK to disagree with your boss. When you support, empower and stand for your boss, your disagreement will make a difference for performance – and for your boss. It all depends on where you are coming from and your intent in the conversation. Ultimately, you could look at the outcome you want. Is it to empower your boss and the results to be produced together? Or is it for personal gratification?

Employees can get intimidated by authority, when it looks like the boss has the final say and nothing can be changed. They do what they’re supposed to do and keep their head down. The problem is this rarely produces great results, and in the long run leaves no one feeling empowered.

We’re all going to disagree with our bosses from time to time, and when this happens, the best thing to do is “own the leader.” By this, I mean listening carefully to your leader’s intentions, and ultimately working to make those intentions happen. When you’re determined to deliver the leader’s outcomes, disagreement will make sure things are thoroughly thought through. This can be incredibly productive for everyone involved, and set up a dynamic for rich thinking to take place.

For a while, we had a young employee who would often stand up in meetings and disagree about certain approaches we were taking as we grew the business. But he had this wonderful underlying ownership of the company and of me, even when he was a little annoying. We ended up piloting a new practice area with him that went on to have several new clients.

How you share your thoughts is everything. Think about when an employee disagrees with you. No matter how articulate or logical their view, it’s easy to tune them out when they do not clearly demonstrate that they are disagreeing because they care about the outcome. On the other hand, it’s very easy to listen to someone who is completely owning the outcome, even if it may take them some time to fully present their point. Even when they are argumentative, “owners” tend to make a great contribution.

The point is, you can always bring ownership when you disagree with your boss, and when you do, you’re more likely to be heard. For sure, don’t let go of your perspective, look for the best way to share it! All the objections and considerations become a contribution to making something work brilliantly. And we all want that kind of performance.

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