A Centered Leader in the World of Left and Right
It was really nice seeing my old friend Ben walked into my Denver office last week. Ben went through our VIM Executive Coaching some time ago, but he likes to bounce leadership ideas and challenges off of me from time to time.
After we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes he blurted, “Russell, I almost got sucked into quite a mess last week. I think you would be proud of the way I handled things.” He immediately grabbed my curiosity!
“Well Russell, it was right before that special election.”
“Uh-oh,” I said. I had a strong feeling where he was going to go with this.
“I have two senior managers, Kate and Elsa, who work for me in two different departments. In this case, they are both women and both very competent. However, they are like day and night. Their differences are especially ‘180 degrees’ politically. I thought I had a handle on it all, but last week there was a huge blow-up right before a management meeting. They were about ready to start taking swings at one another. That’s how hot it became.”
I started by commiserating with him. These can often be miserable times. Politics are hardly a neutral topic and of late, no one seems neutral.
“Their politics and their opinions should not be your problem,” I said. “it should be no one’s problem.”
“I know,” he said. “What would you advise? What is your take on this?”
I have had this question asked a lot of me lately; too much. I will share my explanation and a few thoughts on what to do about it. I must first make a cautionary statement. No two situations are identical, just as there are no two organizations, profit or non-profit, that are identical.
“Ben, my first response is that there is no room for political rhetoric within the walls of your organization. It is most difficult to function where political agendas of one manager are forced down the throats of other managers or employees. It is not enough to simply counsel the two women, but to make it clear throughout the company. There can be no politicking, no ‘lobbying,’ and especially no political bullying. Make this point crystal clear to everyone, from the person who empties the trash pails to the senior person who is presenting to major clients.
“I would call both managers into a meeting and demand that they owe everyone in that meeting an apology and that they owe both you and the company an apology. I would not accept any other course of action of either of the managers in the short term. You make sure, in no uncertain terms, to tell them how unacceptable their behavior was to you. I would also advise them that you are writing an amended annual review and putting them in their files stating that you viewed their behaviors in that meeting as being detrimental to the work environment.
“Finally, again in the short term, as they are valued employees you must get them to sit down and in the supportive environment of your office that they work on their similarities and common goals than to view each other in terms of their differences.”
“OK,” he said. “I can see the short-term benefits, but what about the long term?”
“It is a matter of how they operate,” I said. “They must learn to respond to situations and even differences of opinions, not react to them. In the long-term, especially as you value each senior manager, I would strongly recommend they learn to practice the techniques of mindfulness meditation.
“When the first political comment came up (of course, it should not have happened in the first place), someone needed to say something like: ‘I don’t think we should be discussing such things while at work,’ or ‘I am uncomfortable talking about politics.’”
“If one of the employees persists in confrontation, it needs to be reported to you after the meeting or to Human Resources.”
While we live in contentious times, where there is often an undercurrent of friction or an inability to have civil discourse, by focusing on our similarities, common goals for the organization and mutual respect, we can find a way to overcome differences in opinion. We cannot reach understanding by reaction, but by response that is compassionate and authentic.