Leaders Know How to Push Through Differences

Some questions are easy. Most would agree that 2 plus 3 equals five. Easy, right? On the other hand, some questions are not easy. Such as, “What is the meaning of life?” Though on a side note, if you want to know, contact me and I’ll answer that question. But you get the point. Some questions are black and white. Binary. Other questions, not so much. They aren’t easy to answer. They’re difficult. They are unique to the person, their “lens,” their culture, their perspective, their world-view, their upbringing, and so on. The question, “What’s most important you?”, asked decades apart, could elicit a different response. Your different responses don’t necessarily mean that one was right and one was wrong. It could be due to the fact that you’re in a different stage of life with different priorities.

By wiring (nature), some of you are more black and white than others. Some of you tend to be more grey. And your lens is, of course, influenced by both nature and nurture. Your DNA and your environment. Your wiring and your family. And so on. But not everyone sees the world in the same way. Some problems are easy, some are hard. Some issues are easy, some are hard. People don’t always agree.

I have a wonderful wife and three great kids. And each of us views the world differently. Do you have kids? A spouse? A sister or brother? Parents? Friends? Do hang out with teammates or neighbors? If you’re around other people and pay attention, you’ll quickly notice how many different ways the same situation can be viewed. A silly example: I went with a couple teenage girls to see the movie Thor. Of course I assumed they’d like the “hero,” Thor. Nope. They both liked the villain, Loki. Ugh! Of course they both told me I was wrong and that Loki was really “good hearted” underneath, was more sensitive, and less “macho.” Clearly people see the world differently.

Once I had a situation where several members of a team had different perspectives on an operational strategy. We were trying to finalize the strategy collaboratively and then build an execution plan. The problem was that we couldn’t agree on the strategy. The easy and quick thing (though not necessarily the best) for me to do as the “boss” would have been to play the role of executive decision-maker so we could move on. I had the positional power. But it wasn’t the right action at that point.

Members of the team had stopped talking with each other. They were hurt and angry. They had shut down. They weren’t collaborating. Relationships on the team were fragile. While it would be an easy decision for me (trust me, I was tempted) to make, I didn’t. I quickly brought the team together to discussion expectations on how we worked together as a team. We discussed respecting each other. We discussed the decision-making process and the escalation process to use if differences couldn’t be overcome initially. We discussed the use of data and emotion in decision-making. And on and on and on. I pushed the team to talk, to collaborate, and to “disagree and commit.”

It wouldn’t be accurate to say we turned our team dynamics around overnight. But we did make progress quickly. We did push through our differences and quickly found a solution that the team supported. And most importantly, we set ourselves up to be more successful the next time we ran into differences. And trust me, they’ll come. You already know this.

Differences are a part of life. Some problems are easy, some are hard. Some issues are easy, some are hard. People don’t always agree because people have different lenses, different values, different perspectives and different needs. But leaders, great leaders, know how to push through differences.

How about you? What differences have you pushed through successfully within your team? Your family? Your company? Your association? Your board?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.


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