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Leading Through the Political Season

Alan Andersen

Surely you shuddered when you saw the title of this month’s Leadership column. The national conventions are not until next summer, and the presidential election is more than a year away. But unfortunately, even if you are determined to put your head in the sand and sing la-la-la until the fall of 2016, we all have to admit that the political season is upon us. On the macro level it is happening all around us.

On the micro level it is swelling within each of us. We run every candidate’s comments through our own set of values and quickly determine if they match or not. That candidate (or party) quickly gets one point in our plus or minus column. Our running total either solidifies our commitment to a candidate, or causes us to throw up our hands in disgust that none of them are reflecting what matters to us.

Leadership skill: Think, listen, and share.

Resist the urge to ignore it all.

  •          Too busy.
  •          Too early.
  •          Too many candidates.
  •          Does not matter what I think.

It does matter what you think. And that is the place to start. Inform yourself about the issues, especially those that are particularly important to you. Know the true facts. Determine what you believe will fix the issues, and why you think your ideas will work.

Once you are clear where you align on the issues, you will be tempted to read only the newspapers, posts, and blogs that share your viewpoint. You most likely will watch only the programming that agrees with you. That is human nature. We feel reassured in our beliefs and safer from attack when we “flock” together.

But if we remain confined to our flock, stuck in our box of the “right” way to do things with all of the others who agree on the “right” way, we will contribute to an “us” and “them” mentality. You know … the “us” that are “right” and the “them” that are idiots. We miss the essential opportunity to contribute what we know and what we believe. When this mentality is played out across the nation, our politicians are left with the message that it is more important to support their political party than their nation. A true belief in the importance of constructive conversation must “trickle up.”

The opposite of remaining ensconced in the flock is believing that those with different political views are intelligent human beings. That they, too, have arrived at their views through a level of thoughtfulness. Reading their posts, watching their programming, inviting them into conversation with the pure intent of wondering what they are thinking, invites them and you to understand each other. It may cause a shift in beliefs, or offer you both a better understanding of the other’s issues surrounding the topic. It will help you both know how to bring more value to the conversation. In other words, if you understand each other’s position, you can engage in constructive conflict more intelligently.

How are you doing, 0 – 10, when faced with political challenges?

I, like you, find it difficult to understand how others can be so shortsighted, naïve, stuck in their ways, and yes, stupid. But I have committed to looking past my temptation to flock and judge, and face politics with curiosity. It is from a simply curious heart that we can pull our heads out of our political boxes. Our nation’s huge tapestry of ideas is essential to a strong democracy. Imagine a nation of respectful curiosity and intelligent conflict. Make it happen.

- Mary Beth King

This article also appears at True Life Coaching and in Blue City Monthly

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