Conventional wisdom suggests you are better off keeping an executive naysayer away from helping developing new concepts.

We don't buy that perspective.

We advocate involving a challenger early in a project and making them an integral part of the development team.


Because we'd rather hear all their challenges earlier than later. Hearing a challenger voice all their issues early allows us to address the concerns. Later, it's well, too late. Plus, if during the process the naysayer didn’t raise any concerns, you can call B.S. on them later if they DO object. In response to a too-late challenge, you can ask, "Why are you criticizing something NOW if you didn't say a word all the way along?"

Make an Executive Naysayer Earn Those Ongoing Complaints

There IS a catch, though, when it comes to a habitual naysayer.

A habitual naysayer must EARN the right to keep challenging. They don’t deserve a free pass to only poke holes at the ideas, work, and progress that other people are trying to make.

When an executive naysayer raises an issue, it may be out of fear of progress or change.

A client project team member prompted this realization, although it SHOULD have been obvious before. The client project is months in development. One participant does little beyond challenging, raising issues, and registering indifference to the work that OTHERS are doing. When we've requested this naysayer share work product to move the project ahead, there's no response. All we get are further challenges to what others are suggesting.

I reached the end of my patience for this behavior the other day. We're nearing an in-person workshop, and this executive is STILL challenging and complaining, despite shared personal responsibility for the outcomes.

The executive naysayer's freedom to challenge at this late stage comes about because of everyone's collective deference to the complaints at every step. This includes tolerating every challenge (including misdirected ones) AND the naysayer's total lack of effort to contribute or share anything constructive to advance the work.

That's when a moment of clarity surfaced: If an executive naysayer wants to keep challenging, he or she must EARN that privilege. This is especially true when an executive naysayer has zero seniority or authority over the other members of the group.

If you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to push back on the executive naysayer sooner than later. They might get a few challenges for free. After that, they have to earn them! – Mike Brown

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