In the U.S., it can seem difficult these days to engage in a conversation that doesn’t bleed into a “left versus right,” “liberal versus conservative,” “red versus blue” debate. Social media, for all its ability to help us share the joy of weddings, births, birthdays, photos and funny memes, also provides a continuous feed of slanted stories and opinions based on our personal likes and habits. The great fear of the internet is that we will lose our ability to think on our own, to critically evaluate information rather than simply accepting opinions we hope to be true. We seem to be letting go of our personal accountability.
How do you lead in an environment where truth is invalidated by opinion or alternative facts? How can you create a workplace that achieves the best of everyone when there is underlying disagreement, discontent and distrust?
We are in a period of great leadership stress!
As a leader, a researcher of leadership, a teacher and a practitioner, I struggle with how to bring my team together while trying to avoid anything that may be controversial. In reality, my avoidance is not helping but, rather, driving further wedges between groups and fueling the acceptance of the retreat to our own views and opinions.
It’s time we break the chains we have wrapped ourselves in. There’s plenty of blame to be shared. We have probably all clicked on the funny meme that disparages a political view or opinion and shared what we thought was factual information without checking our sources. We all need more personal accountability. We have the tools to distinguish fact from opinion, theory from practice and right from wrong. It’s time we start using them.
Leadership is the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings: Small actions lead to larger consequences. With that in mind, here are some tips for leading in today’s organizational climate:
Be the Example
As a leader, you are the example. Whether you accept that mantle or not, your actions, behaviors and words contribute to the environment that you create. Be the one who listens to, challenges and supports others, regardless of their views and beliefs. Change is multi-step process. Always take the first step.
Leadership is doing things that intentionally lead to specific outcomes. Know where you want to go, and take steps to get there. Want to increase morale? Take the time to talk to your team. Plan time to bring your team together, and allow the conversation to wander off the day’s crisis topic to include personal experiences. Even asking something as simple as what everyone did over the weekend starts the conversation.
Commit to Facts
Google is a great resource, but it will bring you to the most popular content, whether or not it is true. Whether searching for best chicken recipes or worst forklift accidents, remember that volume of views is not equivalent to accuracy of the information. Find experts who are searching for truth, not notoriety.
Challenge Each Other
Challenge yourself and your colleagues to seek a variety of viewpoints, experiences and examples. We have great access to information, but we must fight the algorithms built into our search engines.
It’s OK to be wrong, and it’s OK not to know something. One of the downfalls of our access to information is that we feel we have to know about everything. After all, with a few strokes on my phone, I can look for the answer to any question I can imagine.
Sit with the unknown longer. The answer you find may be correct, but often, we are asking the wrong question.
When the pandemic started, many of us thought our lives would change for a few weeks. We were willing to close our offices, go remote and stay home, because we thought it would just be a few weeks. As we start, for many of us, the 12th month of this new reality, many mourn for the time of being together, laughing at the coffee machine, sharing our latest customer call gone wrong and celebrating the completion of a job well done.
Being a leader today is hard — but being a leader is always hard. Hang in there, and know you don’t have to be perfect. But get off the bench, and make sure you are in the game.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.