Imagine me typing the following words into a Google search box:
Bridge between polarized groups
The reason I typed those words is because I have always seen myself as a person who bridges two cultures, two tribes, two groups, two parties. I am naturally drawn to mediate conflict, find common ground and engage all affected parties.
This came up for me as I watched some of the presentations at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. I heard leaders debate about inequality and the future of artificial intelligence. Global leaders are looking at the world from a macroeconomic and geopolitical level. Polarization is apparent in Europe and the United States while countries in the southern half of the world’s hemisphere are attempting to increase their standard of living, many torn by war and unrest.
People are on the move.
Business as usual doesn’t work any longer!
No more can we talk about innovating new products without taking a look at how consumerism and capitalism have left significant groups of people disenfranchised. On the micro level, this polarization is also a reality in our communities, our companies, and our families.
I have leaders touching base with me wondering how to reach common ground, how to change communication so each faction can be heard, and how to move forward united rather than divided. And those individuals are the brave ones. Some don’t want to find common ground but just continue with business as usual by simply growing themselves out of the mess.
So when I typed in the words ‘bridge between polarized groups’ and clicked on images, imagine my surprise at what I saw. I had anticipated seeing pictures of flags, graphic depictions of different political parties and maybe a bridge or two. But what stared back at me was an entire page of sunglasses!
I must admit, it made me chuckle. My brother happens to be an optometrist, you see. I was quick to dismiss that page. But then I took a second look and realized that a machine had just augmented my reality. A machine, in this case my computer, had taken the word ‘bridge’ and ‘polarized’ to present me with images of glasses. Now one might think this is not a good result, but at closer look I realized it was the perfect result.
In order to bridge our gaps and unite us rather than divide us, we do need improved vision. We need a new set of glasses. We need a different way of looking at things. And we can’t leave it up to the leaders that are out there somewhere. Each of us needs to take responsibility to come up with this new vision to improve are families, our communities, our companies, and the world at large.
So as a leader, what would a new pair of glasses help you see? What is the truth that you have not been wanting to accept?
1) The old way does not work anymore
You can’t continue as if nothing happened. There has been a shift going through our civilization and it is up to you and me to recognize it and deal with it. People are protest voting and resisting. It’s time to pay attention.
2) There is an identity crisis
Who are we as a company, as a nation, as global unity? What do we stand for? What defines us? We can let our heads hang and mourn the way things were. But progress is always forward, never backward.
3) Not everyone agrees on where to go
Groups are divided. There is no right or wrong, just different. We need to agree on our values and our vision. We don’t need to agree on the ‘how to get there’ just yet. Arguing about the how is a dead end street when there is no agreement on the values and the vision.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” –Sir Winston Churchill
4) Change is messy
Brace for the mess that is called change. People want change because what they are currently experiencing isn’t working for them. Another word for change is chaos. It’s a normal part of the change process and can’t be avoided. All you can do is move through it as quickly as possible and anticipate what comes next.
5) Time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the shop floor
Remember when your kids, or yourself when you were little, would crawl on the floor and be amazed by how different things looked from down there? And remember the first time you sat in an airplane and looked down, how different things looked from up above? Michelle Obama famously said last summer in a speech referring to her opponents that when they go low, we go high. Of course she was referring to demeaning, derogatory and inflammatory language and conduct. However, it is a good metaphor for the divide between the elite and the common folk. You cannot just go high. You must also go low to the shop floor to understand what life is like from that perspective. It is your responsibility as a leader to look at all perspectives and not just settle on the one that feels most comfortable.
So I hereby want to challenge you to put on a different set of glasses and take action by learning to understand what the life of the ‘other’ is really like. What are their dreams and desires and how do they differ from your own?
Specifically I challenge you to start a conversation with somebody who holds an opposing view. Make it a habit to start talking with people who don’t think like you. Try to understand how they form their opinions without judgment and by simply connecting with another human being. It’s not easy. The truth is, no device or robot can do this for you. It is your responsibility.
Imagine what might happen when you embrace new vision.
Want to brainstorm how to gain a new perspective and a great vision? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.