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Avoiding the “Us vs. Them” Trap

Courtney Lynch, October 5, 2020


This week a colleague reached out asking for feedback.  Knowing her, I knew she wasn’t seeking affirmation – she wanted constructive guidance on how she can grow and get better.  I, Courtney, have connected with this woman routinely for the past six months – she’s handled COVID challenges with incredible grace and thoughtfulness.  During this period, she’s had to layoff 30% of her team, reimagine her department’s strategy, and navigate significant home front challenges with her young family and spouse who travels internationally.  She’s done so many things a leader needs to do well during these stressful, demanding times.
 
When we connected, I reminded her of all her more recent triumphs over challenge, but I did point out a growth opportunity – one I think we can all get better at, hence this Leadership Moment.  You see, “Mary” often projects an us vs. them mindset when she feels she’s getting pushback at work around change strategies and policy adjustments. 
 
It’s common for leaders at different levels to have different opinions and perspectives since they see the impact and consequences of decisions from different vantage points.  The challenge comes if you find yourself more and more “against” the actions of others.  That narrowing mindset can limit your growth and impact your behavior in less-than-best ways. 
 
Evolving as a leader requires you to move past a win-loss pattern of thinking, which is very much socialized in us in our achievement-oriented American culture, and towards an interdependent, collaborative thinking style where you can channel different perspectives and sit with conflict before reacting.

Consider this example:  Management is asking us to do this, yet it seems out of touch – why would they want things done this way?  How can I influence their perspective?  How can I best implement their intent at my level in helpful ways for my team?  What’s it like to be in their role?  How is this policy reflective of the challenges they see at their level?
 
When you find yourself taking sides at work, let that be a warning sign that you’re veering off the path of effective leadership.  To get back to a position of influence, instead seek to spend time understanding the perspectives of others.  Working to understand someone else’s point of view doesn’t mean you try to convince yourself it’s right.  Instead, it means that you’re open to learning about different ways to achieve results together and you respect that the best way forward likely includes a blend of many “right” ways of getting things done.  The bigger the challenge to overcome, the more open, flexible and nimble we as leaders need to be.  The more complex the problems we face, the more we must realize we’re all in this together.

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