Loyal Oppositionists – A Leadership Principle Requiring Focus and Explanation

ToolsThe last time I discussed being a loyal oppositionist, I am afraid people missed the point.  Apparently, the thought absorbed was that only a person could be a loyal oppositionist in politics, which is incorrect.  Thus, I am revisiting the principles of choosing to be a loyal oppositionist.

Loyal Oppositionists

It is less that you are an adversary and more that you are someone with an opinion that (although frightening to me) might in some way enrich my own. And if I raise myself to being a partner with you on this mutual journey of ours, and if I refuse to bow to the posture of being a frightened adversary as you intersect my journey with a journey different than my own, we can profoundly change what we would have otherwise both died wrestling over.”  ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Webster defines “Loyal Opposition” as “a [person] whose opposition to the party in power is constructive, responsible, and bounded by loyalty to fundamental interests and principles.”  If we are ever in a position of power, we, the loyal oppositionists, stay mindful of our actions, responsible and accountable to those who supported us to power. We remain true to the organization’s fundamental principles, giving us the privilege to serve as a leader.

Lemmings 5Loyal Oppositionists never use violence to control the thoughts of others.  We refute ideas with more potent ideas.  We employ words, conviction, and confidence.  We love the freedom found under the “Rule of Law.”  We are constructive in our comments, truthful, and we research and report, even if it means we must improve our individual actions to meet our ideals.  Now, more than ever in American History, America needs loyal oppositionists to step forward, answer the call, and defend liberty against the tyranny thrust upon us.

You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”  ― Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

Principles of Loyal Oppositionists

Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.” – Ziad K. Abdelnour

Thus, the first principle of loyal oppositionists is to adhere to and commit to understanding this basic equation.  Failure to know and live this basic equation means loss of leadership, wasted resources, and chaos.  Important to note, these principles come before being “constructive, responsible, and bounded.”

Exclamation MarkWhile not precisely a ranked principle, a person’s character is witnessed; they are not spoken, not listened to, observed, and judged by others.

You can easily judge a man’s character by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Like trust in a relationship, a person’s character is built upon mutual experiences, time, and consistent behavior.  Loyal Oppositionists understand the power and reputation inherent in a person’s character; they are slow to judge, quick to observe and create their own opinions about other people’s character.  Realizing that a person’s character is built, allow yourself and others time to get to know your character.Virtue

The following cannot be stressed enough:

Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” – Woodrow Wilson

Self-sacrifice is not equivalent or comparable to being a floor mat for everyone to walk on.  Self-Sacrifice is all about knowing the why and being a volunteer.  Not to the point of burn-out, and not to inflate an ego or anything other than an honest desire to render assistance to the best of one’s abilities.  Loyal oppositionists want to help!  Failing to understand this mental desire is the number one reason why loyal oppositionists lose positions, roles, and employment.  Leaders, do you know who to trust as a loyal oppositionist?  Do you know how to use a loyal oppositionist to advance ideas to solutions?

DetectiveConfucius makes a powerful statement here for loyal oppositionists and their leaders.

Base yourself in loyalty and trust. Don’t be companions with those who are not your moral equal. When you make a mistake, don’t hesitate to [admit and] correct it.”

How often has a team failed in competition because one team member has the moral integrity of a louse and the entire team suffers, without ever knowing why they keep losing?  Consider your favorite sports teams, how many make the news for acting without moral integrity, and you can answer the first question quickly and easily!  Doubt this fact, pick a team, any team, any sport, and job, and you will find the truth glaring at you.  Morality matters!

Leaders…  Never Forget

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” – Edward R. Murrow

Remove America, insert your company or branded organization, and you will find significant truth in the statement from Mr. Murrow.  Dissent is defined as concluding contrary to the majority, expressing an opinion different from prevailing opinions or an official position, or simply a disagreement.

cropped-bird-of-prey.jpgI was working in a call center for a prominent online adult educator, where I questioned the software being changed and the rollout of the new software system.  The software would not be finished and thoroughly user-friendly for an additional five years after the initial rollout.  I expressed my dismay at rolling out a partially completed product when time and energy should have been put into finishing the software before rolling it out for all the employees.  My director felt this was disloyal to the organization, trumped-up fallacious claims, and wanted to punish me for disloyalty.  I walked out of that job; I was not disloyal then, I am still not disloyal to the brand.  I am not loyal to that director or the supervisor who craved a promotion and signed off on my being punished on fallacious claims and charges.

Mr. Murrow’s point is extremely critical for leaders and followers to embrace.  Loyal opposition lives as long as leaders, and followers, agree to disagree.  In the middle of two extreme points, truth is found, solutions improve, and people are built.  Thus, loyal oppositionists’ value is the second point in an extreme to aid in changing perspectives and building a better product, service, country, or nation.

Knowledge Check!While killing loyal opposition is most visible in the political spectrum where partisan politicians cannot agree to disagree and work together, the problem with killing loyal oppositionists is everywhere.  From sports teams to board rooms, to political forums to every business, refusing loyal opposition has become the disease we are strangled with.  Some try to blame communication skills, others try to blame the “speed of business,” others will use one of a thousand other excuses, but as the axiom goes, “Excuses are like butt-holes, everyone has one, and they stink!”  Embrace your loyal oppositionists and allow them to help you!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Shifting the Leadership Paradigm – Two Principles for Leadership

Recently a question arose regarding leading small group team processes being different from managing large-scale change and how to identify leadership traits common and separate to leading small and large change. It is my position that no leadership principle or style requires changing simply because of the team size. The principles remain the same, the application remains the same, and the leader who is most effective at understanding this dynamic in leadership will survive and thrive during organizational change.

The most glaring difference between small and large teams, remains collaboration as detailed by Mueller (2012). In large groups, Mueller (2012) contends that productive relationships are not created and collaboration suffers. In smaller groups, the reverse is found and the productivity of each member increases substantially. Leading small or large groups hinge upon this principle that individual productivity increases as team size shrinks. With more production coming from every member, the quality and quantity of work, theoretically, should increase. Mueller’s (2012) research bears an important note here:

“… [C]oordination losses and motivation losses provide an incomplete story in explaining why individuals in larger teams perform worse. … relational losses play an important role in explaining why individuals experience performance losses in larger teams. … the optimal team size may be completely dependent upon the exact nature of the group task which may have as many variations as there are teams [p 122].”

Mueller (2012) concludes with a call to improve management as the deciding factor over team size. This conclusion confirms that size does not matter, leadership does.

A VP of Development for a wood manufacturing organization provided some concrete examples of the principle of leadership overcoming team demographics, size, and geographic disparity. Part of the leadership tools exemplified was the principle of One. The principle of One is defined as helping those you come in contact with feel as if they are the single most important factor in your success. As a leader, helping those on the team feel their importance to the team is crucial and makes the difference in team dynamics. Regardless of the size of the team, taskings or assignments for the team, or geographic distance in the team, being able to see big picture, but aid in the development of One, spells success. The VP of Development practiced this principle, trained others in this principle, and shared success with others. When failures occurred, singling out individual team members did not occur, and the VP never let corporate politics interfere with team dynamics.

The second crucial tool in a leadership toolbox is the Umbrella principle. A leader’s job is to help their team understand what occurs outside the umbrella and protect them from the consequences. Those under the leader’s umbrella can and should depend upon their leader’s protection and remain shielded, and free from distractions that hamper productivity. With these two principles of leadership, the One principle and the Umbrella principle, the leader can successfully lead teams of any size, shape, and geographic combination.

Important to note, size of the team does not change the impact or reduce the need for both the Umbrella Principle and the Principle of One in leadership. These two common and related principles distinguish the teams that succeed almost naturally from the teams that seem doomed to fail regardless of resource expenditure. Case in point, during a contract assignment in a call center, two teams of customer service reps exemplified the need for these two principles. Team A had a new leader, young, newly promoted, and full of fire to gain another promotion. Team B had a team leader, who had held the position for a long time, was well seasoned in leadership, and employed these two principles to the disgust of the higher call center leaders. Without being a team member of each team, one would never have known or understood the core underlying principles driving each team leader. Team A’s leader was a manager first, last, and foremost micromanaging each person, every task, and killing team member morale with too many reports, too much to take in, and hovering at every possible turn. Team B’s leader knew how hard the job was, employed the Umbrella and One principles, encouraged focus upon the singular task at hand, not multi-tasking, and delivered upon the customer service promise of the organization. Team B enjoyed immense success in meeting every single matrix measured in the call center. Team A enjoyed employee churn three times that of the entire call center. In fact new team members were told, “This is the team you get sent to, to kill your career,” and the unofficial motto of the team was “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” In fact, Dante had another reference as well; assigned as a member of the team meant being assigned into the “13th circle of hell.” Team B was more prepared to handle the constant organizational change of merging, performing during change, and remaining emotionally content during organizational upheaval.  Team A, failed miserably to perform and still the manager eventually was promoted, after laying the blame fully upon the shoulders of the team members.

Both teams in this discussion went from 7 team members to 20 team members, and back to 12 team members, while I was consulting. Both teams had team members with ADA and FMLA concerns. Both teams were in an organization undergoing a merger, dramatic shift in organizational culture, and had to meet the same measurement goals. It is my opinion, based upon experience, that leading small (7-15 people) teams through change employs the same leadership skills and traits as leading large (16-100 people) teams. Leadership principles remain adaptable to the needs of those being led. The adaptability of leadership principles remains the keystone that builds, uplifts, and launches people upon their own journey for success.


Mueller, J. S. (2012). Why individuals in larger teams perform worse. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 117(1), 111-124. doi: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.08.004

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved