By Dr. Harry Li
One of our favorite VIP2 quotes, from the classic philosopher Aristotle, said, “It takes an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” So true! If you want to expand your leadership influence, then learn to process and articulate positions that you may not agree with personally. Doing your best to understand a different perspective builds bridges and unifies teams. In today’s culture, you cannot afford to be a leader who divides the very team that is necessary to fulfill your mission.
Nowadays, especially with the volatility of social media, questioning in a curious way, trying to understand the complexities of an issue or “playing the devil’s advocate” automatically places you in the “enemy” camp. Don’t fall for it! Attempt to learn from someone you don’t agree without compromising your convictions. Build your credibility and help others feel heard and understood. If you want to lead a team that thinks differently and provides innovative solutions to complex problems, it will require fresh perspectives, most likely from people that do not think like you on a variety of issues. Foster this type of environment, and you’ll see the necessary path that sparks creativity, not division.
Beware the Digital Echo Chamber
The politicization of every volatile issue has made civil discourse virtually impossible. Be aware of the impact social media has on this process. Every online article that you read is cataloged, processed and used to automatically determine the next article that you will find even more appealing. With each read, your digital footprint marches further and further towards an entrenched position. Once there, the reader becomes more and more convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong. There is no room for nuanced thinking that is not binary. This is exactly where many on one side would love to keep you. Your leadership influence will effectively be cut in half, if this is the case.
Think Complexity, Not Sound Bite
The politicization of any volatile issue oversimplifies the deeply complex nature of it. Many times the goal of a sound bite is to instill fear, gather votes and hold onto readers, viewers and listeners, not deepen understanding. The “other” perspective becomes separated by a clear and wide divide, along with an enemy that many times is a caricature of reality— exaggerated, demonized and stereotyped. Remember this rule of thumb: if you can explain the solution to a complex problem that has spanned decades of time in less than 10 seconds, more than likely, your understanding of the issue is very shallow. Read material that provides clear, historical perspective on those issues you know little about. Deepen your understanding of those divisive issues instead of simply repeating what you’ve heard others say. You’ll win friends and influence many.
Lastly, and most importantly, learn to build a relationship with those whom you disagree. At VIP2, we refer to this as “peeling back the onion,” which means getting beyond the surface level and facing value assumptions that we tend to make about people. Building relationships like this models a unifying style of leadership that will become more and more valuable as time goes by. Show your team that one can be civil, polite, respectful and caring with those whom they disagree. Try it! You may find that the other perspective has more substance to it than you first suspected. Even more importantly, you may discover a friend that will greatly enrich your life and expand your leadership influence.
Dr. Harry Li leads the “Avoiding Burnout” and “Knowing Your People” modules of VIP2 Leadership training. Dr. Li is a consultant for a variety of businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and churches on issues related to culture and diversity Prior to this, Li was an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Idaho where he researched high voltage, analog integrated circuits and consulted for NASA, Boeing and a handful of other companies and government agencies. He has written numerous technical papers and co-authored two books.