The polarization of people here and in many other places continues to create dysfunction or paralysis in both policy-making and in market behavior: how we vote, whether we wear masks, whether we will enter retail spaces, gyms or sporting events…the list of politicized choices keeps growing.
With hopes that there is a path back to functional governance and predictable markets, it is time to start determining where effective leadership is going to come from, what it might look like or comprise.
Wherever one sits on the spectrum of underlying political viewpoints, there seems to be strong consensus that polarization is destructive to both our culture and our democracy – only true antifa or fascist activists would disagree. So, whether you are a business leader or a community leader, you have a strong stake in protecting a democratically functioning public sector, enabling a healthy, sustainable economic environment. There is a saying: ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail;’ and so it is that I happen to see the capacity to communicate effectively as an essential element of leadership. What kind of messages – and messengers – have the potential to create the bridges and shared priorities that will need to be built and defined as we move ahead?
And where are those strong leaders, and how are they using their positions of power to support healing where it surely needs to be occurring? It is a tricky positioning challenge, that must be acknowledged: every message seems to be heard or viewed through partisan political filters – or through the context of the emerging equity and inclusion priorities being shaped by the experiences of the past months.
Many of us in business – and other sectors other than government – have operated with an intention to steer clear of controversy, certainly including partisan politics and debates about racism. But as one of my BIPOC friends likes to remind me, the reality of healing is that it requires the opportunities to talk about the past. Not to blame, but to understand. I am coming to believe that the same thing is true of our hyper-partisan current existence. How could someone have voted for Donald Trump? Or conversely, how could someone NOT have supported the re-election of the President? Until we can figure out how to have real conversations about those questions, healing seems a pipe dream. And given the stakes for existing political parties in the USA, no one should expect politicians to lead in this necessary work. As another of my friends – this one a prominent elected official – once said: “Anyone who thinks the behavior of elected officials is a ‘leading indicator’ isn’t paying attention. Political decisions get made when the answers are glaringly obvious.”
So I’m back to wondering where that leadership for healing will come from, and I am concluding that it is right in front of us: leaders in business, in community organizations, in academic institutions, in non-partisan elected offices. We need to be role-modelling the behaviors and initiating the conversations that can lead people back into constructive dialogue with an increasingly diverse and ‘woke’ population around us. Differences of opinion will always exist. Re-learning how to respectfully disagree, to graciously move ahead when my opinion doesn’t carry the day, to genuinely care about bringing others along on our collective journey: this is the work ahead of us. And it seems to me those of us in the silent majority (that is, the middle) need to step up. Are you ready and willing to serve?