Category Archives: Execution

Argument Advantage – Gain Credibility by Defending Your Ideas

New article posted on LinkedIn Pulse!

Besides achieving results, the next sign of a leader’s value is their ability to articulate – and effectively defend – their ideas. Resources, authority, and reputation can be won or lost in a moment’s notice. Here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help you this master this critical, but too often ignored, skill for leaders: argument. Gain the #argumentadvantage!


Don’t think you can avoid it. Leadership is about influencing others to achieve goals – and you are not the only one doing it. Disputes over perspectives or solutions naturally surface. If you can’t defend your ideas when they are challenged, especially against fallacious reasoning or specious objections, then your credibility as a leader will be diminished.

Don’t think of argument as a zero-sum contest. Rarely do people “win.” Most times an argument is the opportunity for you to demonstrate your certainty, confidence and competence as a leader. Opposing perspectives clash, different sides are presented and others judge each position on its substance and accuracy. Think of argument as your time to shine in front of your peers and/or bosses.

Don’t think you MUST always be right. Think of argument as an opportunity to arrive at the best solution possible. You should say to yourself prior to engaging: “I must now calmly and clearly articulate my position while withstanding scrutiny. If I’m correct, great. If not, then I will acquiesce to positions that appear to be more correct or appropriate than mine.” It is this type of intellectual honesty that encourages people to speak up; it also compels others to engage and contribute.

Don’t engage every argument. Knowing when to challenge another’s position is important to your credibility as a leader; knowing when not to argue is invaluable for the simple reason you risk being exposed, intellectually and emotionally. Some arguments are nothing more than pretenses by one party to demonstrate their alpha status (whether actual or desired). Some arguments are just a waste of everyone’s time. Knowing when to maintain silence when others are unnecessary provoking conflicts is a sign of self-control. It is signals you have a focus on what is important versus what is not.

Don’t buy the simplistic image of argument propagated today. There is an art and science to defending your ideas. For instance, natural behaviors influence your manner of arguing. Many “global” thinkers who prefer speed in decision-making unsurprisingly gravitate toward the “direct” approach – the methodology that seeks the “decisive victory” in the quickest manner possible. In industries where rapid decisions are required this approach is advantageous; where risk tolerance is low, this type will appear reckless, if not a liability.


Do understand the purpose of argument. Contrary to the cringe-worthy image of people screaming at one another in a heated exchange, argument indeed has a positive function. If done correctly and constructively, argument becomes a healthy form of intellectual Darwinism. Two or more conflicting ideas or solutions are proposed. Resistance is met and the viability of each is tested. If the ideas withstand scrutiny (rational and irrational) then they become legitimate alternatives. And everyone wins when alternatives exist.

Do understand that preparation for an argument often prevents it. If you are not clear in your communication (and thus your thinking) then expect to be challenged. Anticipate emotions and tempers to kick in as defensive mechanisms. Here argument earns its unpleasant reputation. The irony of preparing to argue is that you decrease the likelihood of it actually happening. The reason is that clarity and precision of your ideas will be carried in your communication, which in turn reduces the ambiguity of your message (which is a significant cause of unnecessary arguments). However, if your message is clear and you are challenged, then you will be prepared! The burden will then fall on your challenger, requiring him or her to provide a feasible alternative to your thought-out solution.

Do understand vague communication signifies unclear thinking. One simple rule to help you gain clarity in your thoughts is to look for nuances in your ideas. Articulating a simple, seemingly harmless distinction between two similar ideas or notions can make an enormous difference in understanding your message. For instance, two words that are often used interchangeably in business strategy are maximization and optimization. Both translate into the usage of resources, yet optimization implies minimum or zero waste.

Do understand the burden of proof. The person who asserts an idea or proposition has the sole obligation to prove it. For example, if you propose a solution, you must back it up. Your audience has to only listen. This fundamental of logic applies to others. If another person’s solution lacks clarity or sound logic, and in desperation they demand you disprove their point, you can easily reply, “This is your proposal. The burden is on you. I didn’t bring it up.”

Do look for a dual benefit in argument. Just as both sides win in a business-employee relationship (you exchange your talents for a paycheck and the ability to professionally grow) the same is true in argument. The organization gains better solutions from the fact that ideas are challenged. The best ones are validated and the unnecessary risks are exposed. You benefit as well. On a personal level your certainty and self-confidence is boosted; on a professional level you demonstrate yourself to be competent as both a professional and as a leader.


There’s an old adage that translates, if you want peace, prepare for war. This counter-intuitive advice is true of argument. By doing your due diligence as a leader, in terms of thinking and communicating your ideas effectively, you reduce chances of being challenged, at least for unnecessary reasons. Moreover, you will build your credibility by contributing quality solutions; you will also greatly strengthen it by constructively defending them. Demonstrate your value as leader by gaining the #argumentadvantage!


Kevin Black (@kevinblack99) is the Principal and Founder of Executive Command (@execcommand), a learning and development company in Arizona that offers an elite leadership education to high-potential leaders. His online course on advanced communication, ARGUMENT ADVANTAGE: GAIN CREDIBILITY BY DEFENDING YOUR IDEAS (#argumentadvantage), is available on Enroll now to get lifetime access!! Redeem a 20% discount for being a LinkedIn member. Use the following code: LINKEDIN20.

Supreme Command: Ben-Gurion & Common Sense

David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, ’48-’54

By Kevin Black

Our age of specialization has in some respects overshadowed the value of the generalist. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering the sophisticated,  technological age we live in. For instance, to be a “business strategist” today requires a qualifier, signifying an expertise in a particular field, such as marketing, sales, or IT. What about the general business strategist? Isn’t this the professional who integrates all of the input of the experts? And by what technical right can this person legitimately tell an expert what to do or what not to do? David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel, who is the fourth statesmen presented in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime, provides an interesting and helpful perspective.

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Supreme Commander: Churchill & Interrogation

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, ’40-’45

By Kevin Black

Even to this day Winston Churchill is a controversial figure in politics. Despite their debates, many of his critics admit that his wartime leadership was a crucial factor in ensuring Allied Victory in 1945. Eliot considers Churchill as the “greatest war statesman of the century.” What stands out about Churchill’s performance as key player of the Allies is Churchill’s inquisitive nature. The chapter title, “Churchill asks a Question” says it best: he questioned everything and everyone, no matter there position. When the Prime Minister wanted answers to questions, he found them one way or another.

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Supreme Command: Clemenceau & Supervision

Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France, ’17-’20


By Kevin Black

Probably one of the greatest traps for strategic leaders is to enter the world of tactics and get stuck in there, “buried in the weeds” of everyday operations. No doubt tactics are important, but when the daily crisis dominates your everyday thinking and agenda you are not driving strategy and actualizing your ROI. A great example of a strategic leader who learned to fluctate between tactics and strategy was Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France during the latter years of World War I. It was his supervision of his army that is a great lesson for any business leaders today.

Clemenceau is the second statesman in Supreme Command. The French wartime Prime Minister earned the nickname, “The Tiger”, for his force of character, unwavering focus and optimism, and for his willingness to fight for what he wanted. The Tiger had an enormous challenge as he came to power during a dire time during World War I, when victory was distant and world powers were almost bled white.

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Supreme Command: Lincoln & Delegation

By Kevin Black

I think it is fair to say that delegation as an effective business tool is a sacrosanct notion. And why should it not be? As a strategic leader you must delegate responsibilities, at least for the very fact that the amount of goals and objectives to be achieved, to include the multitude of derivative tasks and sub-tasks, is too much for one person to handle by themselves. In this respect alone delegation makes practical sense.

Abraham Lincoln, one of the four statesmen covered in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime is a great case study in the important role of delegation. But in Lincoln’s case, delegation of authority and responsibility had to be EARNED.

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Book: Supreme Command

By Kevin Black

I’m finishing up Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime.  The author is Eliot A. Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Paul H. Nitze of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins Univ., and who has also taught US Naval War College in addition to Harvard University.

From my research, the book is considered a must-read for senior leaders looking to better themselve in balancing strategic leadership with strategic management.   It is about civil-military balance in wartime.   Should politicians (the leaders responsible for victory) stay out of the military strategy process, leaving it to their military experts? or should they interfere by probing, questioning, and possibly ignoring expert advice?   Cohen examines four world politicians who found the right balance:  Lincoln during the Civil War, Clemenceau during WWI, Churchill during WW2, and Ben-Gurion during the Israeli struggle throughout the 1940s.   Each leader is different by culture, knowledge, and experience; yet, each share remarkable similarities.  Some are:

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Orson Welles on General Marshall

Orson Welles remembering George C Marshall on the Dick Cavett Show

By Kevin Black

George Marshall was not known to be the warmest man, especially considering he fired 600 officers during the Second World War. Yet, Orson Welles’ reminiscence of Marshall supports the general’s unwavering conviction that his organization, the US Army, gravitated around the soldier, first and foremost. This is a great story for anyone interested in how to conduct themselves as a strategic leader. Start the video at 5:50.