“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team[i]
The palpable hypocrisy of “We the People” has been one of the more disturbing aspects of this election cycle. People looked over their own candidate’s flaws in order to attack the other candidate. But now, it seems, that we have reached a new level in public discourse.
Since the inauguration, my Facebook feed has been blowing up. We all knew that Donald Trump was a polarizing figure, but it has been quite remarkable to see the level of reaction to Trump
President Trump’s actions have led to counteractions, protests, and justifications on the part of his opposition. What is particularly interesting is when the same people now reject positions that they previously held or they support positions that they once despised. For example, obstruction was view one way when aimed at Obama, but another when aimed at Trump. The nuclear option was one thing when Senator Reid did it, but just the opposite when the Republicans threaten it.
People that you once thought to be level-headed appear to be melting down over the border wall, the travel ban, his supreme court nominee, or his executive orders. People who love him look past his faults; people who hate him can only see his faults and that perception colors every decision he makes. And this drama is unfolding in the virtual public square—on Facebook and Twitter.
Yet, there is a bright side. When you get past the name-calling, and misguided attempts to persuade the other side, you realize that this new situation gives us an accurate picture of where we actually stand in relation to others. What I mean is that these people held the same assumptions about politics before Trump, but except for the most outspoken, their positions remained veiled. They posted funny memes, inspirational quotes, and the occasional picture of what they had for dinner, but their political views remained hidden by a curtain of politeness.
Then Trump was elected. He did not change your Facebook friends’ assumptions about politics, but he revealed what was there. It is as though a light has been turned on in a dark room and now we can all see what everyone really thinks. This is a gift. We can only address the problems when we know the truth about each other’s viewpoints. Now we can speak to each other’s true positions.
In The Workplace
The whole situation made me think about parallel conditions in the workplace—the places where truth is not told, but it needs to be exposed.
We need the kind of honesty in organizations that we have now attained in the public square (preferably without the hostility). Organizational change most often comes from outside the system.[ii] In business, this most often happens when an outside crisis such as increased competition forces a change. Let me offer a number of examples to illustrate the point.
Some organizations do well enough financially during the good times, but they founder when times get tough. Profit that once provided enough cushion to cover sloppy, inefficient practices is no longer enough. Without sound financial control systems, the organization may be in mortal danger when competition ramps up or sales fall off. Worse, managers may not even know what is happening because they do not know how to listen to the truth of their situation.
Once managers realize how they are hemorrhaging, they become more willing to embrace this truth. They may continue to blame difficult times for their problems, but difficult times did not create the inefficiencies; they only exposed them.
A similar scenario plays out in our offices. It is the reason that Patrick Lencioni named his books Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and Death by Meeting. Rather than speak the truth, people choose to measure their words. Or, they remain silent when the boss reveals a plan that they know is doomed to fail. The boss then misinterprets silence as acceptance of the plan. In either event, he is cut off from the truth that he needs to make accurate decisions. Sometimes this happens because the boss does not want to hear it. Sometimes it is because they are afraid to rock the boat. But in an environment where truth is not spoken, distortions necessarily occur and effectiveness is diminished.
The same truth must be told by the system in a manufacturing facility. Imagine a warehouse where components are scattered and disorganized. The work gets completed, but inefficiently so until a crisis requires management to take action.
But it does not have to be this way. In each scenario, truth can be attained by crisis or by intention. By implementing lean manufacturing or just-in-time production systems, managers can intentionally discipline themselves to adhere to a system that reduces the waste and exposes weaknesses in the system. But this is tough to do. It takes courage.
The bottom line is that truth is healthy. It is healthy at the office, in financial reporting systems, in our warehouses, and in our public discourse. While we might not like what we find when we expose that which has been hidden, ignorance is never bliss.
What truth needs to be exposed in your organization?
[i] Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
[ii] Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and practice (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.