A Manager Must Hide The Disagreement?

I came across a blog post about being a manager. The author believes that a manager can disagree up, but can’t disagree down and if the manager disagrees with the company’s decision, he must hide that disagreement (in front of his team). Speaking from my own experience (nearly 10 years as a manager), that’s wrong.

For the completeness, here is the original words in the blog:

It is your responsibility as a manager to support the company’s decisions. Not just to execute on them, but to support them, to communicate that support, and if you disagree then you must hide that disagreement in the service of the company. You can disagree up — though even that is fraught with danger — but you can’t disagree down. You must hold yourself apart from your team, putting a wall between you and your team. To your team you are the company, not a peer.

The impact of complaints filtering up is much different than the impact of complaints filtering down. In some sense as a manager you must manufacture your own consensus for decisions that you cannot affect. You are probably doing your reports a favor by positively communicating decisions, as they will be doing themselves a favor by positively engaging with those decisions. But their advice is clear: if you are asked your opinion, you must agree with the decision, maybe stoically, but you must agree, not just concede. You must speak for the company, not for yourself.

The right way should be “disagree and say yes”. There are two reasons why a manager should do so, in front of his manager as well as his team:

  1. You can’t fake it. We are all grown-ups and we are all smart people (with college degree and working in good companies after harsh interviews and emerging from all the job seekers). So we don’t give bullshit to each other because we can easily tell and when someone does, we tell him “don’t give me the bullshit, treat me like an adult”. We do social lying (“hey, your daughter is so cute”) but we all know what it is. We have to be ourselves or it will be very difficult and stressful to keep telling the lies. Manager is a particularly stressful job (not only need to take care of yourself, but also take care a number of people who report to you, directly/indirectly), so you don’t want to add more stress to it or you get burned out very quickly.
  2. You want to be treated the same way by your team, when you ask them to do something or do things in some ways that they disagree. At work, sometime it’s a dirty work that I got from my manager (who may have got it from his manager, so on and so on) and I just need someone in my team to get it done. Sometime it’s the right thing to do, but may be uncomfortable — just like getting my boy to brush his teeth. In all those occasions, I want my team to just say yes and do it, though they disagree. To build a team like that, the key is to show them that the manager is doing the same to his own manager, just like one day our children will treat us the same way how we treat our own parents today.

At the end of the day, if one finds he’s in disagreement with the company or his management chain so often, it’s a sign that he should find another company or another team.

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