Red & Blue Can Make a Beautiful (and Successful) Purple
Posted October 4, 2018

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Tribalism, polarization, incivility, politics. We know that people have a hard time talking to people who they don’t agree with these days. It seems everyone digs in their heels, lives in their bubble, and judges those who disagree.

Often, they don’t even want to talk to those with whom they don’t agree. If they do, it’s mostly A LOT OF YELLING AND NAME CALLING.

It’s tough to run a business or an organization with this mindset. It limits growth, productivity, and impact. It distracts and detracts from the mission of the organization and creates a culture of mistrust.

A client of mine, Chris, runs a large organization. It shouldn’t matter, but it’s in a red state. Chris more closely aligns with blue state values and policies. In any organization, you will have people who have different ways of looking at the world. Today, we often label them red or blue.

It shouldn’t matter, but it does – if you let it matter.

This color coding is in fact generated by actual belief systems and values that these individuals hold close. As Americans, we respect and honor the freedom to have different opinions. It’s when we stop talking – or listening – to each other because of these differences that it becomes a problem.

Chris brings to the table passion and conviction of beliefs, and a track record of successfully running organizations. As with all leaders, there are blind spots or patterns of behavior that don’t help that person navigate the challenges of leadership as smoothly as might be desired. Chris is no different in actively seeking ways to be as impactful a leader as possible by overcoming some of the things that get in the way and learning new techniques of leading to move the mission of the organization forward.

There are significant differences between Chris and other leaders in the organization. On both sides, there were gaps of life experience in never having met “someone like this.” Or even talking about, “an issue like this” with someone who had a 180-degree different viewpoint was a challenge.

There were times when Chris’ passion was not felt by the other leaders, and Chris would take this as a personal attack. “They just don’t get it.” Or, “don’t they know better?”

Conversely, the leaders would shut down Chris’ attempts to make changes by looking through a lens that was more personal than professional. They were unable to beyond biases.

After a significant shift within the organization, Chris was now forging the future of the organization with two key leaders who are staunchly red. They had struggled in the past to see eye-to-eye, somewhat driven by the individual differences in political and social values. This disconnect had been hurting the organization’s path forward.

During this transformational time in the organization, our coaching began to focus on culture. What is the culture you want for this organization? How do you want to treat each other? How do you want to be viewed by those you interact with? A culture will happen. Do you want to create it, or let it happen? Will you blindly recreate the destructive culture of the past just because that’s what is familiar?

What is the culture you want to create?

Chris and the two others were able to look beyond their personal differences and focus on the overarching mission of the organization. They were able to have open and honest (albeit uncomfortable) conversations about the deep-seeded values that kept them apart. They were able to realize most of these differences really didn’t matter when it came to the purpose of their organization.

They acknowledged there was more they were aligned with than separated them. They dropped the judgment of each other. They moved forward with intentionality around creating a culture that set a new standard for how the leaders would treat each other, how they would be viewed by others, how they would recruit new people into the organization, and how they would accomplish their goals.

In this era of extreme self-righteousness and incivility. Seeing these very different blue and red people not only “reach across the aisle” but indeed sit down together to create something amazing gives me hope that we can all overcome the divisiveness we are currently experiencing. And it’s good for business.

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