By Ben Baginsky
On Masterchef Israel a couple weeks ago, the contestants were set a challenge to work in pairs to cook one dish. Throughout the challenge, one pair were in total agreement. Another pair were in total disagreement. In the end, the dish prepared by the ones who agreed was a disaster, and the opposing one wasn’t. One of those from the agreeing pair lost his place in the series.
In trying to understand what happened, I’ve developed the following interpretation. The two who agreed couldn’t handle what it would have meant to both of them and their relationship to disagree. The two who disagreed, on the other hand, were able to put their goal - making successful food - front and center. They didn’t take mutual criticism personally.
Disagreeing in the service of a goal is at the heart of effective leadership, is crucial to success. Hillel and Shammai used to have arguments ‘for the sake of heaven’. The purpose was not to outdo the other, but to generate truth. Political dynamics in teams and workplaces can make it difficult for us to stay focused on the goal and to play the ball not the player. But it is key that we do if we don’t want our team or organization eliminated from the competition.
How? First it is key to understand what the goal is. This isn’t always clear, but if we have a clear sense of purpose we at least know where we are trying to go. Second, it is important to try to gain understanding of who might oppose this goal and why. Any change worth making will meet some push-back. Better to be prepared for what form this might take. Third, start seeking the push-back in the necessary places. It’s not enough to simply wait for disagreement to arise. If we want to proactively lead change we need to deliberately set the fires - under the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Some will be the right fires. Others might burn us. As time goes by, we’ll begin to learn what works.
Leadership like this is not easy. But it is possible. And totally necessary. In Masa, we offer opportunities for our participants to build the capacity to lead. This means giving them the tools to map the terrains in which they want to have an impact. It means building their expertise in setting the fires they need to set in order to move the world. It means utilizing the Israeli context, where productive conflict isn’t a part of working life but rather an absolutely essential underpinning. And it means at all times engaging them in a global community of supporters, colleagues, partners who can be next to them - and most importantly, challenge them - when they and their vision need it.