Harmony is overrated
Q: Can people who disagree with each other -- who pale at even compromising with each other -- come up with and execute a successful game plan? (Any resemblance to the new Congress is strictly (un)coincidental ...) If you've ever worked in such a heated atmosphere, what was the outcome? Is this a recipe for a lose-lose scenario, or might a surprise be in the offing?
Tim and Angela are both leaders for a downsizing company. Tim addresses the organization's budget crisis by considering the employees' personal circumstances and including his direct reports in open group discussions to see what could be cut or eliminated to save as many jobs as possible.
Angela, while not eager to eliminate trained employees, prefers to let the data decide it, calculating what projects and people are most profitable and/or mission-critical and taking this opportunity to eliminate the rest. Tim and Angela frequently clash, both convinced that the other's approach is a road to organizational ruin -- Tim's for being soft-headed and Angela's for being cold-hearted.
Peter and Aliya have a different ongoing debate over managerial effectiveness. Peter believes that Aliya is too passive and quiet. He believes that she and her team would be better served by her being more assertive -- putting her views and agenda more boldly out front.
Aliya, on the other hand, believes a quiet, servant leader is most effective. What's more, Aliya believes that Peter is too assertive, often sucking up all the oxygen and coming across as domineering.
The clash of these people and these ideas, while unpleasant and uncomfortable, is good. The worst outcome for all involved would be for any one of these sides to win out over the other, for all the wisdom and power of the missing view would be eliminated. Balance (and usually the best outcome) comes only from the tension of opposition.
We just came off a dramatic national election in which passion was high and the ideological divide was great. Should we as a people address our current economic and employment challenges with bold, governmental action and reform or should we shrink the size and power of the federal government, letting state governments and private industries have the freedom to respond? The big wins for conservatives should not be surprising -- this was the balancing action that naturally follows the surge of progressives in 2006 and 2008.
As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as unyielding, but I believe one of our greatest and most enduring qualities has been our ability and willingness to compromise. The U.S. Constitution, our two-party system and the fabric of our culture are all based on it.
The United States has worked best and most often when clashing ideologies come together -- and after some screaming and mugging for the camera -- get down to work and compromise. Fresh off of every election, especially a big one like this, there is self-congratulation and the inevitable talk of mandate, but this grandstanding generally gives way to governance, which requires a substantive clash, then compromise.
Harmony is overrated. I used to see my training and coaching as the work of a peacemaker, but now I see that my work is helping people to clash effectively -- to communicate, to stay engaged, to learn from each other and to keep moving forward in the face of disagreement.
Whether we are talking about Tim and Angela, Peter and Aliya, or Obama and Boehner, passions are high and differences of opinion run deep, but the problems that face our businesses, our economy and our culture are real and dramatic. Let's keep arguing, but let's stay connected and create some middle-ground solutions.