Lately, I’ve been disappointed to watch as fellow Americans work furiously, with misplaced passion, to build fences that separate themselves from others. I can’t understand that mentality. Wouldn’t it be better to build bridges to unite and strengthen organizations, workplaces, and communities, instead of building fences to divide and weaken them? Yet, in a culture of instant gratification and self-righteousness, it can be easier to make hasty assumptions instead of taking the time to understand contentious issues and appreciate others’ perspectives. Leaders of character must motivate their people to take responsibility for their own actions, to be accountable for outcomes, and to demonstrate the moral courage to do the harder right instead of the easier wrong.
Connecting Across Generations of Diverse People
It takes engaged leadership to unite and strengthen—to connect a diverse team so everyone can achieve their full potential and the organization can meet its mission and goals. Here’s a recipe for success:
Start from Today: Put the past behind! Whether it’s historical events or an office dispute that causes tension, banish the drama of the past and project from the power of the present. Clear the decks of interferences to accomplishing the mission. Evaluate the environment from different perspectives, then decide how to best move forward together to achieve the organization’s mission and goals.
Create a Culture of Respect: Individuals should seek, with deep humility, to respectfully understand, not to undermine, the other person. They should also seek to see the implicit decency in those around them instead of presuming implicit bias. Beware of individuals who try, instead, to undermine others and who presume others are biased. Those are the people who build fences to divide and weaken.
There’s a lot of talk about respect these days, but it seems the focus is often self-serving. I’m thinking of those who demand respect based on who they are instead of going about the more difficult process of earning respect based on how they act and what they do. One of the tenets of my leadership philosophy is, “build trust and earn respect.” “Build” and “earn” are verbs that demand effort—they require the harder right of active engagement, not the easier wrong of passive expectation.
Unite around a Common Purpose and Values: People who work in a respectful environment are joined by a common purpose and live by shared values. It’s the organization’s responsibility to establish those values. Then, leaders must actively engage to unite their teams around that purpose and those values. The U.S. Coast Guard is a strong, positive example of an organization that unites and strengthens. I’m proud to have served a career in the Coast Guard, which has 11 service-centered missions and strong core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty.
Create a Welcoming and Productive Workplace
Leaders who desire to unite their workforces can encourage building bridges instead of fences by employing a few useful tools:
- Establish a welcome aboard program. I recommend assigning a co-worker as a sponsor to each new employee to help him or her get settled, meet coworkers, and start fitting into the team.
- Promote mentoring, coaching, and allyship. Mentoring and coaching programs can be formal, informal, or both. The key to success is to help people connect with each other in positive relationships that enhance growth, performance, and satisfaction.
- Conduct a personality assessment. A good option to consider for an office or team is the DiSC assessment. DiSC stands for the four main personality profiles described in the model: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. Employees who understand each other’s personalities are more likely to respect another person’s ideas and opinions.
- Provide training and professional development opportunities. Look for ways to develop and motivate employees by providing tools and opportunities to enable them to achieve stretch goals. That helps them build the confidence and competence needed to be a productive member of the team.
Look in the mirror. What can you do as a leader to build bridges that unite a workforce?
Please join me next time for more on Leading with Character.
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