disagree agreeably

Stanford’s Psychological Hostility: Learn to Disagree Agreeably

Stanford Law School students’ mob censorship of a federal judge was an exercise in close-minded self-harm.

Psychological safety cannot co-exist with self-censorship. To paraphrase abolitionist Frederick Douglas, there can be no psychological safety when people feel compelled to suppress their views. Such self-censorship also violates the listener, who is deprived of learning those views.

Why it matters

CEOs need to encourage people to disagree agreeably to create a climate in which people feel safe to challenge “the ways we’ve always done it,” offer fresh ideas, and raise problems before they become crises.

Captain Nathan Springer attended an opening ceremony for a completed project in Afghanistan. A pipe scheme to bring water from a mountain spring to two villages was finished and ready to open spigots. Nate had been in the area only for a few weeks and had nothing to do with the project’s execution. He was on the dais as the new senior American in the area.

As the taps turned on, an Afghan elder began yelling at Nate and took a swing at him. The district governor and police chief restrained the assailant; Nate was bewildered. “Why was this guy trying to hurt me?” Others shouted down the irate elder.

He had every right to detain the elder on the spot or to dismiss him as a Taliban-loving lunatic.

Instead, Nate got curious. “What can I learn?” He asked Iqbal, his cultural advisor, to help him understand why this elder was so angry that he would place himself at such high risk. He learned that the mountain spring served three villages, but the pipes only went to two. The outraged elder was from the third and feared that the people’s lives in his village were in jeopardy.

Nate met with the village elders, apologized for the problem (even though he had nothing to do with it), and promised to fix it. He spent some time understanding their views on several matters, built a relationship, and turned a village ready to support the Taliban into a staunch ally.

Nate and I co-authored the final chapter of Leadership: The Warrior’s Art which discusses this story and several other practical examples of empathy and courage.

Disagree Agreeably

It’s too bad the Stanford students, enabled by an associate dean, did not have the wisdom to hear the views of someone they disagreed with. They probably would have discovered new ways of thinking about legal issues, developed fresh ideas about addressing them, and innovated ways to put their clients in the best positions to succeed.

Nate’s curiosity, respect, and empathy won new allies. Stanford’s students won more animosity.

What steps are you taking to encourage people to disagree agreeably?

What skills do your employees need to raise concerns and offer new ideas successfully?

You can encourage people to speak their minds, but you likely have some conflict-avoidant employees who keep their views to themselves because they do not have the tools to disagree agreeably. Their silence results in missed opportunities to prevent problems and seize opportunities.

Join the event

If you’d like to help your employees disagree agreeably, join my Live with Chris seminar on April 6, 2023 at Noon Central.

You’ll get 15 minutes of actionable content and 15 minutes for questions. We end promptly at 30 minutes.

Live with Chris sessions are available to people in my private community. Register here, then go to Chris’s Groups / Live with Chris.

Stanford students are welcome!

When you get good at getting better, you can achieve big goals in the laziest way possible.

Schedule a call with Chris today to start getting good at getting better.

Blessings to you all and Thanks to all the Veterans in my Life

The veteran community is robust, passionate, gritty, funny, caring, empathetic, resourceful, and tough as nails – These are my people

Yup, that’s me in the photo—the one with hair. I’m not sharing the picture to boast or brag, but rather to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU! I’m bursting with gratitude as I write this. Gratitude to be surrounded by so many other wonderful veterans, so many civilians that care, and for a country that honors its heroes. I have had the utmost privilege of meeting many outstanding service members since my return home, and especially since I’ve changed careers in July.

My life is deeply impacted by these brothers and sisters in arms. The kindred spirit flows through our interwoven relationships and the unspoken bond strengthens with every interaction. The veteran community is robust, passionate, gritty, funny, caring, empathetic, resourceful, and tough as nails. Our go-to answer is, “yes” and then we figure out how to do it. Work ethic and gumption ooze out of every pore. These are my people.
Please know that every thank you and Veterans Day acknowledgment means the world to me/us and it fills my heart with joy and gratitude.

I had to share this outstanding drawing that a 6th grader gave me this morning. Her talent is out of this world and it almost brought me to tears.
Originally, this article was meant to create awareness about Veterans. However, as the day unfolds, and the love continues to grow, I simply want to say, “Thank you!” And if you haven’t reached out to a veteran today, perhaps think about the positive impact of that interaction.
Blessings to you all and thanks to all the Veterans in my life.

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Do you want people to give discretionary effort? If so, stop communicating in digital and go with analog

Last week, I held an exclusive event at the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields for an extraordinary group of small business CEOs and solo entrepreneurs. Our purpose there was to discuss innovation and ways to take our businesses to new heights. 

One of our most powerful discussions occurred at Little Round Top. On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine Regiment, led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, defended the extreme flank of the Union position. The regiment held off repeated confederate assaults until they were nearly out of ammunition. As the next assault came, Chamberlain ordered his troops to fix bayonets and charge the attacking enemy.

His unexpected counterattack caught the confederates off guard. They broke and ran, thus ending the largest threat to the Union Army. The 20th Maine saved the day, and, perhaps, the Union.

Vital to the 20th Maine’s success was the addition of 117 soldiers on the eve of battle. These troops from the 2nd Maine Regiment were detainees, accused of desertion. They thought they had signed two-year enlistments instead of three and demanded to go home. Talk about disengaged employees!

The Union generals gave Chamberlain custody of the accused, with permission to shoot them if he wished. Chamberlain had about 300 soldiers in his command. Guarding a large company of deserters would deprive him of team members for the upcoming battle.

Chamberlain could have ordered them to stand in the ranks during the battle or face a firing squad. That’s the digital, on-off-on-off, approach: do what I say (on) or you’ll suffer the consequences (off). Based on what we know about employee engagement and the behavior of soldiers under fire, those forced to face confederate rifles, cannons, and bayonets would likely have broken and run away. The cascading effect would have doomed the Union Army.

Chamberlain used a different approach. He gained their trust, heard what they had to say, treated them respectfully, and talked about why he needed their support. He let them decide whether or not to fight. Persuasion is an analog approach, using a continuous signal to gain buy-in. Of the 120 deserters, 117 agreed to take up their rifles and fight, increasing Chamberlain’s capacity by over one-third. 

Too much communication today is digital. Leaders issue policies and demand compliance. You provide mandates with carrots and sticks. People yell at one another over social media. Your top lieutenants urge you to use stronger language and more drastic sticks. Skeptical employees dig in their heels or leave. Is it any wonder that there’s so much polarization in society and disengagement at work?

The analog approach to communication focuses on the ABCs: provide clarity, gain buy-in, and promote 360-degree accountability. Let people know what you need them to do and the desired results and outcomes (the Why). Let them figure out the how. Who’s helping you with the ABCs?


The next FOCUSED program begins in September. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

The magic is in the implementation. We meet for 90 minutes each week. You do assignments that help you gain the right focus, strategy, and team. You eat the elephant one bite at a time using a 7-step process that helps you make the second half of 2021 your best six months, ever, and turbocharges 2022. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you.

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

D-Day lesson: Attack with an open mind and exploit monochrome views

Seeing a situation through a single lens distorts your view and leads to bad decisions.

June 6, 2021, was the 77th anniversary of D-Day. A vital part of the Allies’ success was Operation Fortitude, which was the biggest deception operation of the war. It played on the German high command’s belief that General George S. Patton, Jr. would lead the main attack into France at Calais. 

Eisenhower wanted to blind the Germans to the real attack at Normandy, delay their reinforcements, and buy time to build up a huge allied force in France. 

The Germans saw what they expected to see — Patton’s massive army ready to pounce. Their fixation had the effect that Eisenhower wanted. They did not give up on their fear of a Patton-led attack at Calais until six weeks after the Normandy landings. By then, Patton was leading his tanks toward Paris.   

BlackBerry’s CEO Mike Lazaridis believed that keyboards were essential for hand-held devices. Despite data suggesting that touch screens were gaining popularity, Lazaridis clung stubbornly to his original design. When’s the last time you saw a BlackBerry?

Your blinders thicken when you see what you expect to see.

The single-colored lens is comforting in a world with so much noise. The problem is that you only see what you expect to see, so you are blind to information that gets filtered, and you dig in your heels when information challenges your point of view.

A trusted adviser acts as your kaleidoscope so that you can see the complexity and zero in on the most important data points. Who’s helping you see the tapestry and frame the most important scenes? 


You don’t gain ground by digging trenches

I gave a presentation to the Milwaukee Rotary Club this week on Afghanistan. As many of you know, I spent four combat tours there: three in uniform and one as a civilian. 

Members of the club told me that they’d like to hear about some personal experiences, ways to understand the withdrawal decision, and what’s likely to happen next. I synthesized all that into three main points that apply beyond Afghanistan.

1. You don’t create new wins with old thinking. It seems safer to do what you’ve been doing, even if it’s not working, but there are opportunity costs, too. According to Nobel Prize recipient Daniel Kahneman, people tend to be risk-averse. hey fear losses more than they prize gains. They prefer to smell their own fumes rather than be hit with a blast of fresh air. Whose pumping in the fresh air for you?

2. To grow, you need vulnerability and security. Security without vulnerability leaves you buttoned up and unable to grow. You cannot grow unless you are willing to take off your mental and emotional body armor, and gain exposure to new ideas. Vulnerability without security means you are likely to become someone else’s dinner. Who are your trusted advisers?

3. You gain ground by building bridges, not by digging trenches.  Americans are tossing bombs at each other over politics, identity, and other matters. You can’t move forward while you are digging in. I found in Afghanistan that the only way to make progress was to get out of the trenches and build bridges with people who didn’t agree with me (some of whom were trying to kill me).  Who’s helping you build relationships that broaden your reach and impact?

You can view the presentation at the Rotary Club’s YouTube channel here.

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins the week of May 24. More here.

Accelerating Success

FOCUSED is for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to create and sustain great teams that drive the business to new heights. Apply here.

SENIOR LEADER MENTORING. I have only 1 space available. Get the details here.

Build your StrategyThis program is perfect for small business and nonprofit leaders who want to create a winning game-plan without breaking the bank.

VALUE-ADDING Leadership (self-directed version) is perfect for young leaders people who want to lead as their best selves and inspire people to contribute their best. Check it out herehttps://strategic-leaders-academy.teachable.com/p/leading-well/


If you want to apply for or sponsor someone for a scholarship, contact me at chris@strategicleadersacademy.com.

The Single Most Important Thing You Need To Know About Decisions

F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions.

Facts, alternative facts, and fake news is the 2000s version of the trope that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. These problems complicate decision-making and lead to expensive mistakes. 

Six Americans, to date, have experienced blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. One person has died. The CDC suspended the J&J vaccine until they can complete further testing to see if there’s a causal linkage to the blood clots. The EU did the same with the AstraZeneca vaccine and then re-authorized its use.

It’s heartbreaking to lose a loved one. The shock is worse when their death is unexpected and linked to something that was supposed to be good for them. The alarming reports have increased vaccine skepticism as people fear that the jabs are unsafe. They prefer the passive risk of catching the increasingly-less-fatal COVID to the active risk of injecting the vaccine.

66 million people have gotten the J&J jab. If a causal relationship is found, the probability of getting a blot clot from the shot is one in a million. That’s right, 1:1,000,000, which is far lower than the risk of harm from COIVD. Other one-in-a-million chances include being struck by lightning, casting the deciding vote in an election, and flipping a coin that lands on heads 20 times in a row.

President Biden announced on April 13th his decision to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. The date marks twenty years after the terrorist attacks on America planned by al Qaeda, which had a safe-haven in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon reportedly urged the President to stay the course. Some experts even argued for putting more forces into Afghanistan. Voices from the national security establishment, including former 4-star general and CIA director David Petraeus (whom I advised for three months in Afghanistan), decried the decision as short-sighted and likely to lead to al Qaeda returning to the landlocked country to plan terror attacks against the United States.

President Biden, however, was skeptical. During his speech, the President spoke of his trip in 2008 to the Kunar River valley. That trip was to my outpost, FOB Bostick. What then-Senator Biden saw was violence in our area had plummeted as more and more Afghans stopped fighting and decided to work together with us. He also saw the limits of what US forces could achieve: we could not provide legitimacy to the Afghan government. They needed to earn the support of the people. Unless they did so, we would be stuck.

Using his twenty-year perspective to weigh the arguments, Biden concluded that the risks of keeping US forces in Afghanistan far outweighed the benefits. The Afghan government has yet to earn enough legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, and no length of continued US troop presence was going to change that. 

The difference between the poor decision to avoid getting vaccinated and the good decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan is perspective

Perspective provides context that is vital to sound decision-making. F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions

Who is providing you with perspective so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater or following the bandwagon over a cliff?

P.S. Leading Well is for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

How to lose business with Sophistry

Sophistry is a fast-track to losing business because you damage your reputation, brand, and trustworthiness.

Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments with the intent to deceive. The word comes from the ancient Greek word sophistes, which means an expert or wise person. The Sophists were teachers and speakers whom Plato described as sham philosophers. The characterization stuck.

Today’s sophists are infomercial hustlers, charlatans, and Pyramid schemers who want you to believe something that’s not true. Use this one-size-fits-all digital marketing strategyfollow this checklist to become a creative thinkerinvest in this [silver bullet] scheme, etc.

Good people and organizations can fall into this trap, too. There’s a seductive lure to sugar-coat bad news so that you can ease the pain and anxiety of change or difficulties. It’s a short walk from good intentions toward manipulative “noble lies” and cringe-worthy sophistry. 

People see through the smokescreen right away. No one knows the people like the prince, said Machiavelli, and no one knows the prince like the people.

How do you feel when someone uses words designed to give you a false impression or manipulate your behavior? 

I’ve been a professional member of the National Speakers Association for a couple of years. I’ve gotten good value from the organization and its members, and I’ve given value in return. 

I received an email recently from them notifying me that they are “upgrading” my membership. Oh, that’s good newslet me check it out. The professional speaking business has been hit hard by the pandemic, so I was surprised that NSA would upgrade benefits. That’s pretty awesome.

It turns out that the only upgrade is in the membership dues. They are simply charging more and offering upsells. SlimyI feel like I need to shower

I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about NSA charging higher membership fees and upsells. I have huge qualms about the sophistry. I’m certainly not going to upgrade, and I might cancel altogether based on how they respond to my inquiry.

Lose trust: lose business. Build trust: build business. These are the simplest ratios you need to know, and you don’t need an MBA to understand them. 

I wonder if someone with an MBA approved that deceptive email?

Action steps:
1. Get an outside view so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater. Surround yourself with trusted people who tell you what you need to hear.

2. Speak plainly. Simplicity and clarity boost your credibility and improve the likelihood that what you say is what people hear. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

3. Empower people to take remedial action. Ritz-Carlton is famous for giving its front-line employees the ability to fix problems and make restitution on the spot. Oftentimes, you cannot control the problems you face, but you can control how you face them.

How to Handle the Harry and Meghans on Your Team

Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by Great Britain’s royal family. I lived in London for three years and loved visiting Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I binge-watch The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II exemplifies The Operator, one of our four PROM Servant Leader Archetypes (TM). 

I’m dismayed by the ongoing tension with Harry and Meghan, which was on display in the Oprah interview. Bigotry and bullying are unacceptable, and I’m troubled by the stories the interview revealed. 

There’s only one celebrity in the royal family, so I’m also surprised that the young couple did not seem to get the memo. Some of their anxiety appears to come from a feeling of being underappreciated.

This last problem was entirely preventable.

The royal family seemed not to learn a vital lesson from the Princess Diana tragedy: when you treat people poorly, they are likely to return the favor. People who feel unvalued will vote with their feet out of your company or, in this case, out of the country. They won’t be ambassadors for your brand.

There were probably many good ways to give Harry and Meghan causes they could run with that boosted the royal family’s prestige and impact. Harry has been active with wounded veterans, and Meghan’s star power could have advanced that mission and other good ones without overshadowing the Queen.

This story provides some lessons on what to do with the talent on your team:

1. Put them in positions to use their PROM superpowers so that they succeed, and so does your business.

2. Use our weekly check-in questions to keep them focused on priorities, using their strengths, and getting the guidance and support they need. [Reply to me, and I’ll send you the checklist.]

3. Hold them accountable for doing the right things the right way. Every expectation should include what you want them to do, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the date you want the job done.  

4. Follow-up and be consistent about enforcing your standards. 

5. If you find that your team has toxic talent — highly capable people who undermine your company and their co-workers, then fire them. Toxic talent always costs more than the results they provide.

What action steps are you taking to let your subordinates know that you value their work and want to give them opportunities to contribute their best to your team’s success?


Last week I wrote that the UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials. 

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

Little Known Ways To Rid Yourself of talented UN-HEROES

My UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials.

Teachers can make a lifelong impact. Mrs. Brayman, Mr. Brayman, Mrs. Evanoff, Mrs. Schneider, Ms. Peterson brought out my best and helped me be who I am today.

Millions of kids, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, have missed the opportunity this past year. The teachers have done their best. Many public school teachers’ unions have kept them out of the schools and away from kids who need them most. The Milwaukee public schools are still not doing ANY in-person classes.

I’m fascinated by how “the science” works differently in private and public schools. My niece and nephew in San Diego have been in person for almost the entire year, and everyone’s been fine. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s no evidence of schools being superspreaders.

Data-denying teachers union officials, however, have fought tooth and nail to keep schools shuttered. The effects on kids who’ve missed a year of school will be long-lasting.

There are some good lessons here for small businesses. As the massive economic renewal gets underway, you’ll want to avoid un-heroes because they are subtraction-by-addition productivity and morale bandits.

1. Say no to selfish talent. A team or unit leader who cares only for their fiefdom will damage your team. I’m sure teachers union officials think they are protecting their dues-paying members, but they’ve forgotten about the common good. My mentor, Alan Weiss, pointed out that attorneys are officers of the court and advocates for their clients. The justice system breaks down when lawyers neglect one of these responsibilities. The same goes for your subordinate leaders.

2. Mind the customer. Had teachers union officials cared about kids and parents — the real customers of schools — they would have fought to get schools open safely instead of throwing up roadblocks. Grocery stores stayed open by putting common-sense measures in place to keep employees and customers safe. Single-issue advocates provide self-interested advice that’s good for their narrow interests but most likely damaging to your community.  

3. Beware of perverse incentives. What you measure creates workplace behaviors, so be careful to avoid metrics and awards that discourage teamwork. Too many teachers union officials felt accountable to dues-paying members and not to the community. Use one-on-one check-ins and meetings to have your senior leaders frame their work in terms of advancing company goals and objectives.

Say no to selfish talent, keep the customer in mind, and avoid perverse incentives so that you can make sure un-heroes don’t make their way onto your team.

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

Should Leaders Tell Noble Lies?

Is it ok to lie to your employees if you think it’s for the greater good?

I’m probably an outlier on this issue, but I was distraught when I read in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that he lied about the pandemic. Twice. At least.

His intentions were noble. 

He wanted to prevent a run on N-95 masks so that medical professionals and caregivers had enough of them first. 

So, he said that wearing masks did not slow the pandemic.

He told us that epidemiological studies on herd immunity were wrong. 

Instead of sixty percent, Fauci said that up to eighty-five percent of Americans needed to be immune to stop the virus.

He admitted to raising the percentage to encourage more Americans to get the vaccine.

Dr. Fauci has performed admirable service for America during the pandemic and there are probably people who are alive today because of his advice.

But he decided to tell some Noble Lies, too.

Plato talked about the Noble Lie in The Republic. He used stories (myths) to explain the unexplainable.

What Fauci did was different. He misrepresented scientific information to manipulate Americans. 

He’s not alone.

The self-appointed permission to tell Noble Lies is why people do not trust leaders and experts.

The belief that you can lie to people for their own good is elitist and condescending. A team falls apart when people lose trust.

Here’s what leaders should do:

1. Tell the truth – no matter how good or bad it might be.

2. Let people know what action you want them to take.

3. Discuss why you are asking them to take action. “We need to do X so that Y and Z.”

Take these three steps, and you will gain respect and get the action you need from your team.

Professional credibility takes a long time to build and only an instant to destroy.