Angry Tennis Match

Parallel Universes and Leadership

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Angry Tennis Match

Three Parallel Universes:

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

Public Square

Now, 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 imagine a tennis match with the “far-left” on one side of the court, the “far-right” on the other side of the court. And there is a seemingly sparse “independent” grandstand of amused spectators swinging their heads from left to right as the players fire explosive-loaded tennis balls over the net. That 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.

Personal Sphere

In the personal universe, I have observed lately (not new, just a recent 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—that toll road “T’s” into a freeway. The exits are side by side, two lanes West to the left, and two 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

Freeway Jam

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 Work


In 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 winning at all costs, and frequently, that is “I” win at all costs, not just my team or my company.

Common Denominator

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 leap, 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 effect 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.

[Reformatted 9/2020 for our new website.]