From Over Here: Dissent is an Obligation

January 27, 2017 Robin Whalen, President of The Tite Group

Go ahead. Disagree with me.

No really. I mean it. Tell me I’m wrong.

I want it. I welcome it. It’s how I grow. It’s how everyone grows.

I’ve always been a firm believer that being challenged on an opinion is a good thing. Forces you to look at things from another perspective. Ensures you aren’t buying your bullshit sort of speak. Also encourages everyone in the room to say what they think, to register their vote. And it shouldn’t matter what level you are, what department you’re from or how scary the boss is. Speak up!

In a previous work life, I would play the role of conscientious objector. I would look at advertising campaigns and strategies that we produced and I would try to find holes. Would push for better work. Would challenge the standard convention. And I’d get push back. All. The. Time. Was told that I scared people (if you know me, you know I’m the furthest thing from scary). That I made people feel bad when I suggested edits and revisions. I would say over and over that pushing for work to be better by expressing an alternate opinion was part of my job. Was part of EVERYONE’S job.  For one goal. To make the work better. To make our agency better.  It didn’t go over well. Wasn’t part of the culture. And I was the boss and I still couldn’t disagree with people without getting the stink eye!

Now I’m President at The Tite Group. And I work amongst people who challenge convention daily. Even the building manager disagrees with us on stuff. And then I read this:

True Leaders Believe Dissent is an Obligation

And I say yassssssss.

In my personal and professional life, I don’t like “yes men”. Regardless of my role, I want people to tell me if they agree with the work I’ve put on the table. Tell me it sucks. Tell me how you think it can improve. Challenge me. Push me.  Let’s make the work better. Together.

Particularly when you look at the Communications sector. It is idea based. And we all know ideas come from anywhere. So provided you are not always hiring in your own image, and you look to build teams that bring value to the table in different ideas, why wouldn’t you invite feedback? Demand it in fact?

Let’s role play for a while shall we? Let’s say your boss is a monster. He/she is menacing, loud, and opinionated. He/she has worked everywhere, knows everything and tends to speak before listening. How can you speak up in this environment? It may not be easy, but where there’s a will there’s a way. After all, you know the saying, it’s not what you say but how you say it.  Perhaps you give your feedback after the meeting when there isn’t an audience. Perhaps you start with all of the stuff you loved and suggest a few ideas that could build on the ‘strong foundation’. Perhaps you use language like “What if we did this?” or “Imagine how strong this idea could be if we did this?”. You get the drift. If you must, cater to the idiosyncrasies of the person you work with. Say what you need to say, but fluff it, position it, stage it. Whatever you need to do to get the point across. Just get the point across.

And this attitude has to come from the top down. There’s no other way.  Many agencies have leadership teams that run the agency. Put this on your management objectives. Challenge yourself to share times where the team has disagreed with you and you’ve listened. Declare your policy to your staff – it’s much easier to follow once you’ve said it out loud and to a team.  This way it becomes part of the agency fabric. Unofficial policy if you will.

I love the summation of this article from Harvard Business Review:

So here’s to humility. Here’s to dissent. And here’s to a more fruitful style of leadership than we’ve seen of late.


"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always right. But in all seriousness, I've walked the walk in many different aspects and this is just how I see things from over here." 

With a dash of wit and a full serving of insight, Robin Whalen, president of The Tite Group, shares her insights on the things, topics, conversations and general goings-on that have earned her minutes. 

This is an inside look at how her thoughts power her actions. 

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