Thursday, February 15, 2018

Unity Comes with Divisiveness

Authentic unity comes with a measure of divisiveness.

When we celebrate Malaysia Day on 16th Sept, we are reminded of our national pride of being a multi-cultural society. Slogans and depictions of different races living in harmony with each other represents the utopia of integration and cohesiveness. While these are all worthwhile images of how things could be, there is a lack of understanding of how to get there. Unity is a look like body building - we all aspire to have that "body" but unwilling to go through the process, effort and sacrifice of "building". Cohesiveness is the structure of what you see, however there is a more fundamental precursor which forms the foundation.

Does tolerance form the foundation of cohesiveness? I beg to humbly differ. In fact, tolerance by itself leads to an accumulated state of unresolved, unspoken grievances and misunderstanding which can be triggered some time in the future. Tolerance will only makes sense if there is something pre-existing which is deeper. What about love? Surely, love makes the world go round. Yes, love is important - however, love comes in many shapes an sizes - what is the basis and foundation by which you define love? What is loving to one person might not be loving to the other.

Foundation 1: The Courage to Face the Truth
Superficiality is the curse of our age - Richard Foster.

The can be no unity without first taking a real hard look at our current situation of disunity. The courage to face the truth can be summed up in one word - honesty. With so many policies being in place by government leaders around the world to rein in elements of disunity, there is the tendency to neglect the foundational truth about integrity - honesty is the best policy. In this age of open communication, the constituents of any nation cannot be easily fooled by superficial policies or slogans. There is a fundamental need to first come clean on the elements of disunity, then we can begin the task or rebuilding.   

The obstacle of "coming clean" often lies not with the mind-set of the followers - it usually resides in the thinking of the leaders. There is the blind spot of thinking that all is well when the grassroots are feeling otherwise. It is no wonder then that companies are now churning up their efforts to survey their employees for the state of engagement and connectedness. In Gallup's worldwide study of the state of engagement in 2013, it is revealed that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged. The state of cohesiveness (or the lack of it) is a serious issue which requires the first step of honest reflection. When leaders humbly reflect on the real state of the union, then there is hope.

The false sense of security - thinking that all is well when it is actually not - is produced when the leaders surround themselves with advisors who are more concerned with guarding their personal agenda rather than addressing the real needs of the followers. To put it figuratively, leaders who are disconnected from their followers seek advisors who tickle their ears with affirming feedback rather than truthful messages.

If you are committed to face the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Seek feedback from your followers – especially the influential ones. Look beyond personality differences and be open to receive honest comments (knowing that the truth often hurts but if dealt with objectively, it will have a healing effect).
2.       Sincerely apologize – people are inspired by authenticity. Although charisma gets your message across, it is sincerity that moves people towards cohesiveness. In other words, be humble.

Foundation 2: The Courage to Forge the Truth
Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.
-  Horace Greeley.

Nothing disperses cohesiveness as quickly as a hypocritical leader. Most organizations spend tremendous effort in crafting their vision and mission, hoping that correct copywriting would translate into passionate responses from their employees. Yet, this is not balanced with an equal emphasis on ensuring that leaders are constantly held accountable to demonstrate the mission. How can leaders expect the cohesiveness of walking in common direction if they themselves do not walk the talk?

In my many client engagements, the most common request I get is to provide teambuilding solutions. A factory manager once requested that I produce a two day teambuilding program to “fix” the morale and cohesiveness of the production team and yet when I inquired about the participation from the teams’ supervisors – the response was that the supervisors are too busy to attend, he wanted me as an external consultant to fix the problem on behalf of the supervisors. In other words, please babysit my people and “turn them around” in my absence. Leadership is more caught than taught. Please do not expect integration and cohesiveness from your team members if you don’t even regularly show up. In fact, research from Gallup indicates that as far as engagement is concern, a negative manager performs better than an absent manager.

If you are committed to forge the truth, here are two courageous steps:
1.       Stand up for your team – it is common practice that we stand up for our clients and advocate their needs. Why not we demonstrate the same commitment to protect and advance the needs of our employees as well?
2.       Speak up against corruption – not just on issues of bribery or monetary malpractices but also on matters of injustice and deviations from agreed standards. Cohesiveness is determined not by  soliciting popularity but by standing on right principles.

Conclusion – The Divisiveness of Unity

The uncomfortable truth is this – in order to build unity, there must be a clear division between right and wrong. Unless leaders provides clarity about the current situation (facing the truth, acknowledging the deviations from right standards) and commitment to lead by example (forging the truth, demonstrating right behaviour and attitudes), then we only have an appearance of integration and cohesiveness because it is unity that is built on shaky grounds. John Maxwell is right – everything rises and falls on leadership.

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