While attending a business conference, I heard R.C. Buford, CEO of the San Antonio Spurs, make the following comment when discussing the important topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):
“I’ve learned so much in the past few years about how I can be a strong leader. As a white man, I have my own experiences, and they are unique. An important takeaway for me is that I cannot be an effective leader by taking polarizing viewpoints. I must consider situations based on how people who are different from me are affected when something happens.”
There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started …
Over the years, I’ve worked in companies where varying leadership styles were practiced. In some cases, the autocratic approach was embraced, meaning that workers either do what they are told or find the nearest exit sign.
The extreme demands Elon Musk is asking of his employees at Twitter after his recent takeover can be described as dictatorial.
Another common approach practiced by leaders is democratic, which promotes consensus-building. This is the type of organization where leaders value a variety of input and ideas.
When leading in a polarizing manner, there is no wiggle room. It’s black or it’s white.
Let’s take some examples:
- As the Director of Marketing, Megan is tasked to launch a holiday campaign. During a meeting, her team members reinforced the importance of getting buy-in from other departments whose involvement is critical, such as Operations, Finance, IT, and Legal. However, Megan makes it clear that she is 100% in charge of this campaign, and she will mandate directives without considering differing opinions.
- Mark, the Executive Director of a small nonprofit program, holds a meeting with a group of leaders who will oversee volunteers for a major fundraiser. Mark makes it clear that the volunteers must work when they are assigned, even if it means 10+ hours per day.
The examples provided here illustrate a polarizing viewpoint. These leaders believe they have the unconditional power to force others to follow their orders.
Think about that for a second … “You report to me, and I demand you take my approach. If you fail to do so, you are fired!”
There was a time when this heavy-handed approach may have worked, but those days are long gone.
Today, people have many choices regarding their employer. If they are unhappy with their work situation, they can quickly jump back into the job market. There are countless online tools today to help employment seekers find a position right for them.
The message from Buford about avoiding a polarizing approach is far from new. However, there are still many managers and leaders who follow it.
From what I have observed, the best leaders are not the ones with the highest attainment of formal education. Instead, great leaders possess excellent values, such as humility, compassion, and empathy.