People say that we live in more polarized times than “ever before.” I doubt that. The political view fracturing in the US is hardly unique in US history – there was a War of Independence and then a Civil War, after all. There are conflicts and tensions around the world, just as in every time in history. I agree with my friend who fears what kind of external threat would be required before people could be unified. “Maybe we would benefit from an alien invasion,” he points out.
We have divides and conflicts in our organizations as well. It’s the human condition. Mark Horstman of Manager Tools says the definition of conflict is two human beings in the same county.
Leaders must avoid two errors:
Error number 1: Pure binary thinking.
I like what my colleague Gary Young says: “There are at least 2 sides to every story.” Navigating complicated situations requires understanding and appreciating interacting factors. There are tradeoffs and compromises that are required in an imperfect world. Sometimes relationships need to be held higher than technicalities. Sometimes legal and policy realities must be held even when relationships are hurt.
Error number 2: “Moderation in everything.” Middle of the road, don’t rock the boat, go with the flow, the tall tree gets hit by lightning. You must have principles. There must be truths you hold to. Leaders cease to be leaders when they drift along like flotsam in a stream. You have the power of choice. Understand that choices have consequences, and deal with it.
If those two errors are ditches, then your leadership opportunity is to find the decent-sized road in the middle.