The Value of a Loyal Opposition

I’m going to touch on politics today to make a work-related point. If you don’t even want to think about American politics (and honestly, I don’t blame you), feel free to go through previous entries or wait until Thursday. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the short version is that there is value to be had in having friends or associates who support you but don’t necessarily agree with you.

The Political Part

Meanwhile, for those with stronger stomachs, I’ll go into a little more detail. I happen to be a gentleman of the libertarian right (for my international readers, that means center-right with a preference for smaller government and a distaste for populism). As such, I appreciate reading news that leans in my direction, argues cogently, and offers its opinions entertainingly.

A magazine I’ve read pretty much since it came out–The Weekly Standard–fit that definition. TWS closed this week after 23 years in publication.  One might like them, hate them, ignore them, or never have heard of them, but in their opposition to the behavior and actions of the President, they provided a useful and necessary contrast. I’ve not always agreed with their opinions, either, but I believe the political landscape is diminished by their closure.

Looked at from a personal or professional view, we all have or should cultivate a network of advisors whom we trust to provide us advice. They might not always agree with us, but they should share some similar knowledge, ideals, and interest in improving our lives.

The Professional/Personal Part

Like organizations or nations, we will likely cultivate some opponents in our lives as well: groups or individuals who will never support our success nor have our best interests at heart. These individuals or groups will disagree with us reflexively and even seek to undermine our success. That opposition can be instructive in itself, as we must learn to navigate around or make accommodations peacefully with people who disagree with us.

However, it can be vexing when someone on “our team” disagrees with us about what we’re doing or how. An important thing to remember is that they’re not out to ruin our career or derail our plans out of malice or spite. They might have seen something in our plan that is a fatal flaw that needs to be addressed or that makes the plan itself a bad idea. If they’re truly on our side, they’ll be able to explain their opposition helpfully and maybe offer suggestions on how to make things better or how to drop an idea without losing face.

You want those people in your life. They’ll keep you on track with your life or career because they have a vested personal or professional interest in your success. They will also keep us honest by pointing out when we’re erring. Managers and other leaders, especially, need to be aware of the value of a “loyal opposition” and to cultivate relationships with those individuals. Much like hiring people smarter than you, it’s not a threat to what you do–it’s to your benefit to have friends or coworkers who can offer up perspectives and ideas you haven’t considers. As General George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” And yes, that applies in politics, too.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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