Tag Archives: Politics

Insults and the Insulting Leaders Who Use Them

I recently read an article on foreignpolicy.com discussing how the media and U.S. policymakers commonly depict North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as irrational. The piece explains the current state of affairs from Kim’s point of view and provides historical reasons that may validate his behaviors. While I’m certainly not condoning Kim, it does remind me of the power in diplomacy.

Many U.S. politicians have verbally assaulted North Korea over the years. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “We are not dealing with a rational person, who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly” and President George W. Bush labeled them as part of an “Axis of Evil.” My question is why you would want to insult someone with whom you’d like to build a constructive relationship?

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered this. I remember when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continuously insulted Republicans while she was concurrently trying to gather votes for the Affordable Care Act. Or when a Congressman shouted “You lie” to President Obama during a joint session address. Or when a Democratic Congresswoman called her Republican colleague a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod” during a budget debate. You could even go back to when Theodore Roosevelt disagreed with then President Benjamin Harrison calling him “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

In each of these cases, one politician was in the process of garnering support for his/her legislation; and in each case, they allowed productive debate to be disrupted by empty slurs…and they were empty. There was no substantive argument or strategic need for discord. It was frustration, pure and simple, boiling over in ineffective ways.

In the newspapers, we see this [politician] insulting that one, that one says this about the other one, but in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.—Pope Francis

Now I am not so naïve as to argue for kumbaya-like unity, nor am I compelling you to admire your rival, but insults are not the pathway to results. Even President Trump on occasion (very rare occasion) has recognized the destructive nature of insults:

We don’t need to like the other person or agree with their point of view. We do, however, need to find ways in which to support a culture of mutual respect where work can get done with all affected parties. This, if nothing else, is a core responsibility of a leader.

As leaders, we must be focused on getting things done. This sometimes entails swallowing your spiteful thoughts in the pursuit of progress. You cannot bring people together if you’ve already alienated them and their ideas. It does not mean you should pretend to be in accord; just that you can be nice.

Don’t let pettiness distract from your ability to influence. In the midst of intense discord, feelings are raw and people tend to act out, but this does not excuse impolite behavior. Find an outlet for your resentment, but also find the right time and do it in a way that will not sabotage your deal. With practice, who knows, maybe you’ll even win them over to your side.

Reenfranchising Your Organization’s Disenfranchised with Daniel Radcliffe

If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I may have overestimated how tuned in I am to large segments of the population. I would not call this group a silent majority (as they are neither “silent” nor a “majority”), but recent political events have reinforced the need to engage and find common ground with those who feel alienated. Consider the wise words of Daniel Radcliffe.

In his recent movie, Imperium. Radcliffe plays a FBI agent who goes undercover in a white-supremacy group. According to Radcliffe,

…my biggest takeaway from this film is that, as much as we want to demonize these people and in a way demonize their views, we should try and find a way of getting them into this conversation, unfortunately as awful as that sounds, because the more you ostracize them and aggressively dismiss them, the more it just plays into their worldview that everything is a conspiracy against them.

Before you send me your oppositional emails, let me be clear: I am not equating, comparing, or in any way associating those who feel disenfranchised with white supremacists or racists-at-large. What I am saying is that Radcliffe makes a valid point about demonizing people without engaging in a conversation to understand their point of view. Imperium’s Director, Daniel Ragussis, added that characterizing those on the fringe with insults like “monster” is not helpful.

They don’t give you any access as to the mechanism that’s going on there and why the people are behaving the way they are. I think if you’re going to try to dismantle that or change it, you have to understand what’s going on and what’s happening.

A mutually beneficial workplace culture is not determined solely by the leaders; the employees ultimately decide what practices and habits they will adhere to… and this includes those who don’t feel welcomed to participate. Therefore, companies must focus their resources to involve these individuals.

To help us encourage those who believe they are estranged from the decision makers, we must be mindful of one important concept: Don’t confuse feeling disenfranchised with feeling disengaged. The disengaged are not willing to put in extra effort for success. They don’t like work and they aren’t afraid to show it. The disenfranchised, on the other hand, believe they are deprived of rights and/or privileges. They want to contribute, but either don’t know how to initiate, don’t think they are allowed, or don’t feel welcomed into the process.

To reenfranchise, start by listening to their concerns. Actually, that’s too easy. Your really need to start by withholding judgment. It’s easy to dismiss those who disagree with us, especially when they are not in a position of power. An effective leader, however, cannot disparage or ostracize these individuals. They are part of the organization, so either treat them like they are part of the organization or release them from your condemnatory sentencing.

Once you are able to withhold judgment, you can begin listening to their concerns. Schedule one-on-one’s to figure out what they need to feel embraced. Ask questions, focus on their concerns, and formulate an ongoing plan.

After you know their hindrances and have a plan in place, it is your responsibility as the leader to change how you manage. However you led before resulted in a disenfranchised populace, so figure out what you can do differently to be more inclusive. And follow up frequently to ensure that your efforts are effective.

If attitude is an indication of success (and it is) you will get more bang for your buck if you concentrate on reenfranchising the disenfranchised then engaging the disengagement. Since the disenfranchised crave involvement, involve them. If you don’t, they will find their voice, with or without you. Why wait for them to be an organized opposition? Make them allies and strengthen your team.

Post Election Lesson: Can You Really Change Someone’s Mind?

political-devisiveNow that the election is over, we can take a deep breathe and return to our nonpartisan lives. No more vitriolic Facebook posts or uncomfortable dinner party chatter. We have all united around the newly elected President, right? Please?

In one of the country’s more divisive political cycles, I made no secret of my views. The oversharing crazy train drove through and I jumped onboard with the rest of the wannabe pundits. I had my facts and stats and was ready for anyone who even casually mentioned the election.

As a result, these last two weeks have been spent mending relationships. I’m not apologizing for my convictions, mind you, but I didn’t have to come on so strong. Most seem to have forgiven me (and may even unmute my Facebook posts). For those who haven’t, I’d like to deflect accountability by citing a recent research study.

A new article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines our motivation for speaking out about our beliefs. There seem to be two battling mentalities: 1) people who believe others’ attitudes are fixed, and 2) people who believe others’ attitudes are changeable.

Those in the “attitudes are fixed” camp have a heightened sense of certainty in their own position, making them more likely to stand up for their views. However, it also deters them from trying to convince other people, since a fixed attitude lends itself to a sense that others’ thoughts and opinions cannot be swayed. These two contrasting effects explain why your Uncle will argue with you about politics even when you aren’t arguing back—he isn’t trying to convince/educate you (as you are unpersuadable); he just want to defend his position and possibly get it off his chest.

Those in the “attitudes are changeable” camp believe opposing opinions can evolve. They see disputes as an exchange of ideas, not a competition. As a result, these individuals tend to be less combative and avoid conversations with obstinate opponents who display no willingness or intent to alter their views.

As leaders, we spend a significant amount of time trying to persuade and influence others. Consider whether you lean towards a fixed or changeable mindset before engaging in your next debate, and take stock of your opponent’s predilection. You may need to take it down a notch so they are more receptive to your efforts to “educate” them on the proper way to view the world. Frame your purpose for the conversation at the onset so they understand your intent and leave openings so they have a chance to respond. If this doesn’t work, I still have a few Twitter zingers saved up from the third debate that will surely convince them of your supremacy.

Can I Blame Ronald Reagan for the Current State of Politics? A Leadership Lesson on Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

ronald_reagan_quoteLike most people, I was surprised by last week’s election results. Regardless of your ideology, every poll indicated Clinton would win, including those used by the Republican party. However, after reflecting (and a little Monday morning quarterbacking), I’ve become less and less surprised and more and more convinced that Trump’s win is the culmination of a trend that began under the direction of GOP icon Ronald Reagan.

In his first inaugural address, Republicans rejoiced when Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Almost 40 years later, Trump was able to tap into a segment of the population who feel disenfranchised and ignored; and one of the reasons they feel so disenfranchised and ignored is because every GOP candidate, pundit and political operative since Reagan have repeatedly told them that “government is the problem.”

We call this a self-fulfilling prophecy where behavior influenced by expectations cause those expectations to come true. Basically, the more you hear it, the more you believe it, and more it comes to fruition. It typically starts small—you are told the government is broken (by none other than its leader), so when you see the long line at the DMV the next week, your first thought is validating. This then leads to larger and more significant examples until you can no longer be convinced that the government does anything right.

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.—William Isaac Thomas

Often, the negative effects of self-fulfilling prophecies are the product of an ambitious leader. When an individual is vying for power and wants to distinguish themself from the past, they might say something like, “the company is not the solution to our problem; the company is the problem.” The hitch is in the shortsightedness of the rhetoric.

Once the leader endorses the most awful perceptions of their organization by saying it is corrupt, heartless, incompetent, etc, they cannot then expect that once they are in charge, everyone will have faith in their leadership. That leader is now part of the system and is, therefore, victim to the new prescient of skepticism that they helped establish.

self-fulfilling-prophecyJust look at the long-standing GOP leaders. By making Reagan’s line the central tenet of the Republican’s political platform, it morphed beyond the GOP’s control—once someone believes that government is the problem, career politicians have no credibility since they are part of the government and, thus, part of the problem. As a result, those who once led the GOP and proudly echoed Reagan’s mantra find themselves on the outskirts of the party because they successfully perpetuated the self-fulfilling prophecy that they themselves should not be trusted.

When you “force-feed your audience a diet of outrage,” as written by Jake Cusack, you undermine trust—trust in your leadership, trust in the culture, trust in the organization’s ability to make the needed improvements. Authority is destabilized, good deeds are disregarded, and legitimacy is in question. But be warned, today they may cheer for you and your anti-establishment views; tomorrow they will rebel against you with the same fury that once fueled your ascent.

As a leader, consider the ramifications of feeding into the discontented beliefs of your less engaged staff. Instead of becoming the mouthpiece of disgruntlement, promote a culture of continuous improvement where the concerns of the disenfranchised are taken seriously and immediately addressed. Don’t minimize their grievances, but don’t exacerbate them either.

Start a self-fulfilling prophecy of optimism and positivity. Be the Reagan who worked towards improving the government through bipartisan cooperation, not the Reagan who used cynicism to rally his base. Your organization is relying on you for a hopeful vision of the future grounded in a realistic view of its current state. It is up to you to set this path.