You need to know what connects Ginsberg, Bezos, and your leadership

“Don’t worry, you are not the only one. Most people have googled Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” read Malvika’s Insta story on one of this week’s mornings. That morning most Insta stories were of the lady in a black robe with her trademark white collar. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the iconic Supreme Court justice in the USA passed away this week making citizens in her country erupt on the streets and elsewhere in the world emerge on social media, irrespective of whether she was entirely known to them or not. In her death, she made the social media timelines look more intelligent. In real life, she altered timelines of people through her extensive work. So when I read Insta story of Malvika Mehra, a celebrated creative personality in Indian advertising, I couldn’t help but think- this is us, maybe less knowledgeable but not untouched by the personality. 

Ginsberg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87, a towering personality in her petite frame, the second woman to serve in the US Supreme Court died on 18th September, 2020. She is known for her landmark work, for 27 years in the Supreme Court, for her pioneer advocacy for women’s rights, for her several bouts with illness and comebacks, for her sets of push-ups in her 80s and for her collars, the jabot. 

‘The Fearless Girl in the lace collar at the Wall Street’ replaced the earlier posts a couple of days ago. Justice Ginsberg had started wearing a collar when she realized that the robe was designed for men to show their collar but not for the women. She started wearing a jabot during her court appearances. The collar became her identity and later earned a name. Originally given to her in a Glamour Women of the Year gift bag in 2012, she wore this Banana Republic embellished collar in 2016 when an incredibly divisive and contentious presidential campaign ended in the election of Donald Trump. That day, her collar took a name she had given – the Dissent collar. The dissent collar, now worn by the Fearless Girl as a tribute, then gave birth to body tattoos and a thousand memes along with regular merchandise of t-shirts and pins. And, the Fearless Girl is on Malvika’s cover page and other pages. We are now moved by the personality.

“Teach the word Dissent to your girl” were some of the social media posts that rallied around this week. A dissent as defined by the law dictionary is ‘the opinion of a judge of a court of appeals, including the U.S. Supreme Court, which disagrees with the majority opinion.’ Sometimes a dissent may eventually prevail as the law. Justice Ginsburg is remembered as much for her judicial dissents as for her majority opinions. One of my favorite of her dissents is Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Ginsburg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 case, which denied Lilly Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for gender-based pay discrimination. This dissent led the then-president Barack Obama to sign a Lily Ledbetter fair pay act in 2009. 

I Dissent” is a picture book that tells RBG’s story through the lens of her many disagreements–from the time she was a child disagreeing with the rule at school that said left-handers (like her) had to write with their right hands–and shows young readers that disagreeing does not make a person disagreeable; that you can change your life and even the world one disagreement at a time. Probably, this explains the posts on teaching the word dissent on the social media. We are now in awe of the personality.  

“I disagree and commit,” said Jeff Bezos to his Amazon Studios team, in a world away and unrelated from Justice Ginsberg. He had to make a decision about a production concept which he felt was debatable in terms of the interest quotient, complicated production issues, and business terms. Yet, instead of spending time on agreeing and committing, he chose to disagree yet showed his commitment. 

In this week’s column on Habits for Thinking, here we are learning from Justice Ginsberg’s impactful use of ‘Dissent’ and Jeff Bezos ‘Disagree and Commit’  and adding the potential of disagreeing to our leadership style. 

A dissent is powerful and empowering. 

So is, to disagree and yet commit. It is powerful and empowering. 

Dissents are futuristic.  “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.” Justice Ginsberg had said in an interview. 

Disagree and commit prepares for the future. Bezos said in a shareholder address in 2016– “This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have a conviction in a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.”

This is one of the four tenets of high quality, high-velocity decision making at Amazon. The other three are- first, one size doesn’t fit all decision-making process, secondly, decide with 70% information, waiting for 90% information will be being slow and thirdly recognize misalignment and escalate them. 

As team leaders, we must agree to disagree, when the need comes. A disagreement has to be weighed with these perspectives: 

1 A roadmap for the future: Your disagreement should be voiced to open new thoughts for the future of the business. Like disagreeing in a data architecture discussion to protect future privacy issues is a roadmap for the coming days. It opens a dialogue to be addressed for the good of the business.  

2 Commitment is for the team’s ability: In case of innovation or new concept decisions, your disagreement should not slow down the process. When you disagree and commit, you show the commitment to your team’s ability. No predictions were made to suggest businesses would suffer in 2020 for reasons that are not under our control. Remember that firstly no future planning is full proof and secondly, the ability to drive strong depends on the team’s abilities. Commit to your team’s strength.

3 Failure is still yours. To disagree and commit is to remember there is no room for ego in making decisions. In the eventuality of the failure of the decision, the leader is still responsible.  

Justice Ginsberg’s ‘Dissent’ and Jeff Bezos ‘Disagree and Commit’ are different yet very similar. They both teach us that disagreeing is for the greater good if steered well. 


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