What is a leader to do?


By Phil Harwood

We live in a polarized society today, which presents a difficult question for leaders. As a leader in my organization, is it better to be transparent with my beliefs or should I do my best to keep them hidden?

We are living in strange times in America. As a society, we hold up the values of freedom, free speech, and freedom to express our faith as we choose. At the same time, we demonize those who disagree with us. We cancel their events. We erase their history. We silence their voices. The polarizing effect is very real.

Because organizations are made up of individuals with different beliefs, polarization exists within our organizations as well. It may not be front and center on a daily basis but it’s always there just below the surface and has the potential to damage organizational culture, teamwork, and performance.

The old adage of avoiding topics like politics and religion seems woefully inadequate for today’s reality. Unless you plan to live off the grid, there’s a pretty good chance that your beliefs will become public knowledge. Unfortunately, this means that you will be designated as a card-carrying member of one of two camps.

If we are identified to be a right-leaning person, we are vilified as a Trump-loving MAGA-hat-wearing racist. We cling to our God and our guns because we are an ignorant bunch of rednecks. We are the ultimate hypocrites. We claim to live by Christian values but we have selfishly gamed the system to benefit ourselves and to repress the underprivileged. We are terrible people.

If we are identified as a left-leaning person we are seen as a radical elitist. Our socialist agenda seeks to undermine the institutions that made America the greatest nation in the history of the world. We are morally bankrupt. We riot in the streets when a black man is killed by a white cop but we fully support the murder of millions of innocent unborn children. We are terrible people.

The reality is that very few of us agree with these extreme positions. However, there are many people and institutions that benefit from creating division, stirring up anger, and seeing chaos in our society. For them, there can be no middle ground. Tolerance, acceptance, and selfless love threaten their agenda. How sad.

My faith teaches me that the most important thing is to love one another. I don’t see much of this approach today. The approach I see more of is one that accepts those who agree with us and hates those who disagree with us. How truly sad.

What is a leader to do? In my judgment, I believe that leaders would do well to consider the following:

  • Disagreements are to be expected and even encouraged by leaders. When we shut down those we disagree with, we suffer the consequences of losing their voices. We are less informed and make worse decisions. This applies to society as a whole but it also applies to our teams and organizations.
  • We can disagree with someone and still love them. Despite what current societal norms are, two people who vehemently disagree with each other still have the ability to love and respect each other as people. I believe that we are all created in the image of God and that every person has value. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in society shared this belief?
  • When people are not given a voice and not respected, they feel powerless, helpless, and defeated. At some point, enough is enough. Silence becomes yelling. Compliance becomes disregard for rules. Peace becomes unrest.
  • Instead of avoiding certain topics and difficult conversations, make room for differences of opinions and voices to be heard. I am not suggesting holding town hall meetings to debate current political or religious events. What I am saying is that no topic should be off the table.
  • Leaders who shut down those they disagree within one area will not likely be able to create a trusting environment for disagreement and debate in other areas essential to the organization.

Leaders are expected to set an example. Take an honest look at the example you are setting. Are you leading with an approach that welcomes different viewpoints in the teams you lead and in your organization? Do your social media posts reflect a posture of listening, understanding, and finding common ground? Where might you be contributing to the polarization of our society? I have to admit that I have failed often in these areas but I am striving every day to have a better approach. What about you?
Now go forth.

Tags: Politics , Opinions , Beliefs , Controversy , Judgement , Leader ,