As leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help our employees and organizations transcend personal differences and better align with our organization's purpose. Leadership research out of Christopher Newport University suggests that political differences are a more significant sticking point, as only 28% say they are comfortable with a leader who holds opposing views, and only 34% would follow such a leader.
This data suggests that during a time of political division, organizations will struggle to accomplish their missions. Leaders need to help employees align with the organization's purpose and values and transcend their differences.
I will use my organization as an example because we have colleagues with significantly different political views. We are working to find common ground that allows us to work together respectfully while honoring our differences as a path to providing greater value for our clients.
I imagine some people read this and think it sounds soft — that we need to tell people what to do and they will follow. I respect that the leader-follower relationship looks different for different leaders.
Here are some of the key leadership traits that can be tapped to inspire and unite those with different worldviews.
Be professionally humble: Care more about the organization's success than your personal image.
As a professionally humble leader, I am committed to my organization's purpose above all else. I have been revisiting my purpose as the CEO and asking myself if I am still committed to it. Next, am I living it? I work with an exceptional team, and they can tell when I am disingenuous with myself and with them. Next, I need to be clear about my values and the organization's values and make sure we live them. I recently updated our purpose and values on our website. This exercise of publicly posting them creates accountability. I also asked my team to review and help revise them to know what they are and how they fit for us.
Unwavering commitment to right action: Be unstoppable and unflappable when on a mission.
Right action is an interesting phrase. Right, according to who? I believe our purpose and values help us determine what is right, but this is not enough. We need to engage with one another and have honest conversations — some are not easy.
We are also starting to talk about right today versus right to create the future we want to see. We are asking about the longer-term implications of our current actions. By looking through this lens, we can see where our focus is changing. We can be more disciplined in our choices and actions and eliminate some activities that require time and energy.
Be a 360-degree thinker: Take a systems view and see the interconnectedness of people and systems.
Like most organizations, we are facing changes in the work we deliver and how we work together. As we look at these changes, we evaluate the overall systems and how the changes will move us toward meeting our purpose and values or how they will move us away.
Be intellectually versatile: Commit to lifelong learning.
With the increased level of discord brought on by political polarization and the global pandemic, we are trying to understand our colleague's perspectives. We also need to understand changing global trends. In some cases, we have worked together for decades and have not explored our colleague's values. It is easy to focus on the work and not understand a valued colleague's suffering because we don't want to discuss taboo topics such as politics.
I suggest that we might want to seek to understand — to use the Steven Covey phrase. I am not suggesting we delve into political debates but instead ask the colleagues we value and respect probing questions with deep regard for their challenges, hopes and fears.
Be authentic and reflective: Focus on personal growth and emotional courage.
Reflection is one of the essential skills to allow people to grow and develop. This time in our history certainly requires the courage and skill to accept and support our colleagues who see the world differently. How many of us feel comfortable working with people who don't share our worldview? Yet, if we are secure in our values and mission, we can generally find the strength to embrace people — even if we disagree with their beliefs.
Inspire followership: Connect with a broad range of people around a shared vision.
If people don't follow us, we aren't effective as leaders. If followers don't want to follow leaders with different political beliefs, we need to find ways to inspire them. We must open ourselves up to challenging conversations to understand others and their diverse views. These conversations will require all of our emotional intelligence to build relationships that allow us to work together to meet our mission.
Be innately collaborative: Seek input from diverse points of view to create novel solutions.
This behavior is where we test our ability. If we have done each of the previous actions well, we can bring people together who see the world differently and feel safe to share different perspectives. We need to synthesize those differences to create new and better outcomes.
As leaders navigating the dynamics associated with an emotionally charged election and political unrest, we need to bring our teams together to meet our purpose and create stronger leader-follower relationships and teams.
This article was originally published in Forbes by Maureen Metcalf, CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. Maureen and the Innovative Leadership Institute are Connex Partners.