Leaders are role models; people will follow your example. Is that a good thing?

Divisiveness in the external world is impacting organizational culture. When family members question sharing holidays because they don’t want to hear each other’s differing views, it is certain the workplace is seeing similar impacts. This situation creates a clarion call for leaders to proactively build an environment that supports connection over separation.

The source of this sharp discord is often based in value differences, which is what makes many so intransigent. For example, if someone believes it’s only right if people are treated X, and someone else says, “No, X-3 is plenty for some people,” emotional responses will be triggered. It’s likely both perspectives can be well argued, but they are hard to hear for the person disagreeing. This can lead to cliques and factions, just when you need people to spark creativity in one another because they can think differently. What can a leader do?

Leaders need to start with evaluating their workforce and organizational culture. However, before they can evaluate others, leaders must be personally accountable. For example: Ask yourself how attached you are to your point of view and your opinions. Are you open to hearing very different perspectives? When a position is important to you, can you listen and have a coherent discussion with a colleague who disagrees? Or do you just walk away? Leaders are role models; people will follow your example. Is that a good thing?

Discern how your workforce is doing by reaching out and actively listening. You might create a task force to lead the effort. Ask questions and take notes:

  • How are you and your teammates getting along?
  • Are you having full discussions, or do you stop in order to avoid conflict?
  • Are there people you’re avoiding with whom you used to work well?
  • On a scale of one to 10, where is our trust level these days?

Give employees a sense of how you see issues being discussed, and tell them how you feel: “I feel ___ because ___.” Then, actively listen and role-model how to respond to one another: “It sounds like maybe you feel ___ because ___.”

Discuss what you are learning using your IQ and your EQ (emotional intelligence). If there’s an elephant in the room, expose that discord in a manner that keeps the conversation safe for exploration. Above all else, everyone must be treated with respect. Leaders are responsible for insisting on a safe environment that maintains that while disagreements happen, there must also be very solid areas of agreement. You want your staff to be able to move on from the difficult conversations and continue their work together with a willingness to listen and share.

Once leaders understand workforce connectivity, they need to guide the desired change that can focus on collaboration over separation. Success requires understanding the personalities of the leaders and staff making changes. Data helps guide strategically targeted interventions. People feel safer when they gain data about why they act differently.

Find a few assessments that will help you learn about your workforce and help the people taking them understand themselves better. For example, use an assessment that measures preference for change. Overall, some people will prefer very little change and will want you to move moderately, but about half of most populations are OK with change if there’s a solid reason and process. Then, there is a component of the population that enjoys change and the opportunities for creativity that change brings.

These are big differences, and it is quite possible all preferences are represented in your workforce. To implement change successfully, people with each of the change preferences need to be involved. Working with an emotional intelligence measurement that helps people understand strengths and weaknesses, such as impulse control and assertiveness, will further strategic implementation of the change initiative.

Without doubt, it’s tempting to order, “Just do it!” The problem is that a quick command can’t change the internal states that are leading to the divisiveness. A defined viable path needs to be created. The foundation of change is strengthened with mutually agreed-upon values, such as “everyone deserves to be respected.” Then, leaders can use flexibility to gain buy-in and behavior change from the whole staff through the emotional intelligence skills that are the real drivers of change.

Emotional intelligence skills provide the wherewithal to facilitate new behaviors once leaders have selected the change and influence strategies. The key emotional intelligence skills leaders need are arguably:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Impulse control
  • Assertiveness
  • Optimism – and happiness

These are skills that can be learned, sharpened and tailored to specific circumstances.

Unify your strategies for influence and change by demonstrating super-respect and calling for reciprocity, building new awareness and connectivity. Successful leaders use their skills to understand the diversity of their workforce and learn how to approach change and influence their staff and coworkers. Then, they apply emotional intelligence skills to accomplish the desired behavioral change.

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