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Parallel Universes and Leadership

March 16, 2016

Three Parallel Universes: I’m speaking of Organizations (including businesses), Personal Lives and the Public Square. There seem to be a lot of parallels in those three universes. Of course, this should not be surprising since each comprises individuals from the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens.

Angry Tennis MatchNow, I have no intention of turning this into a political post, so let me get that universe out of the way first. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is highly likely that you will agree that this political season has been and is, shall we say, strident. The electorate is pretty well divided with a significant fraction on each end of the political spectrum unwilling to even listen to the other side. In my mind, I image a tennis match with the “far left” on one side of the court, the “far right” on the other side of the court and a seemingly sparse “independent” grandstand of amused spectators swinging their heads from left to right as explosive-loaded tennis balls are fired over the net. This might be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that we are talking about the childish, pugnacious antics of the potential next leader of the free world.

Freeway JamIn the personal universe, I have observed lately (not new, just a new observation) that folks in their cars, like when on email or social media, will do things I suspect they rarely or never do in person. The thing that got me thinking about this is my weekly trip to an evening class requiring me to take a toll road. This toll road “T’s” into a freeway. The exits are side by side, 2 lanes West to the left and 2 lanes East to the right. The Eastbound traffic is always just about stopped at this time of night. The Westbound traffic is flowing pretty well. The folks going Eastbound are backed up a long way onto the toll road. My guess is the backup starts at least a mile before the exit. So what do many drivers do? They of course stay in the left hand lanes as far as they can and then try to cut into the right hand lanes. They know and we know what that means. Now the Westbound traffic is stopped or, at best, cut down to one lane as those selfish, impatient drivers stop and wait for a chance to cut in front of everyone else going Eastbound. Again, childish.

Selfish At WorkIn the organization universe, we see that “it’s all about me” attitude show up in perhaps a less aggressive manner, but still, selfish nonetheless. We see overly competitive activity within and between functional groups in our organizations. And, it seems that many of our colleagues have forgotten that “how you play the game counts.” Instead it’s win at all costs and frequently, that is “I” win at all costs, not just my team or my company.

I’m wondering how we as leaders can contribute to moving us all toward more enlightened, mature, adult attitudes. My thought is that if we can make sure that our organizational culture is one that is safe for everyone and where we treat each other with respect, then that might spill over into the other universes. The common denominator in all these universes is, of course, us. Given a better example of a way to live and work together in our organizations, I have confidence that we will make the leap to carrying those lessons with us when we travel in our other universes. And since our job as leaders is to develop other leaders and to create safe, civil and productive environments, then we can have a positive affect on our external communities.

I believe this is a challenging and worthy goal for any leader. Create a better world, one leader at a time.

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