One of the key ingredients to being a successful leader in the 21st century is collaboration. In fact, developing collaborative leaders is a core part of SGR’s mission. Perhaps that’s why it seems to stand out so much when I see a person’s approach to leadership centered around “us against them.”
This kind of attitude can be about “young vs. old,” “conservative vs. liberal,” “management vs. council,” “supervisors vs. employees,” and so on. It doesn’t matter what the teams are, the common denominator is an “us versus them” mentality.
Some leaders do this thinking that they are “challenging the process.” It’s a real temptation because it can elicit immediate response, and it can elicit strong emotions. Together, these things make a leader think that momentum is building. However, wise leaders recognize that momentum is not always synonymous with progress.
The problem with “us against them” leadership is that it contains within it the seeds for its own destruction. Once the battle lines have been drawn, it won’t be long before the other side recognizes the situation and responds accordingly. Once that happens, it’s going to be downhill from there. Everyone loses, especially the constituents that you are supposed to be serving.
Seeing life as an “us against them” game causes leaders to dismiss any idea from “them” regardless of merit, simply because of where it came from. It also causes the leader to be suspicious even when there is no cause to be.
Furthermore, it is an addictive response. Once you begin to see things as “us against them,” everyone fits into one of those categories, and the criteria to be “us” gets more and more stringent. Not only that, but the creativity of the people in your group can become severely restricted because they become afraid of saying anything, doing anything, or even thinking anything that can be perceived as disqualifying them from being on the “us” team. In spite of the immediate appeal of it, this is a paradigm that cannot be a formula for effective leadership.
How can you avoid this trap?
- Seek to expand the team—not shrink it.
People who feel like they have a seat at the table are less inclined to take on an adversarial role.
- Seek people’s advice who seem to lean toward being antagonistic.
You may not desire to follow all of it, but there may be something they say that deserves serious consideration.
- Seek the win-win.
This is the heart of collaboration. It is the opposite of “us and them.” It’s a more mature way to lead; it’s a less volatile way to lead; and it’s a more successful way to lead.