While many companies have started in one place and ended up in another – morphing through competitive, economic and societal influences – it’s much harder for people to evolve their thinking and behavior. We are who we are, right? We need to stay true to our own character.
And that’s the false choice many of us believe we have to make – that we must somehow abandon who we are in order to change or to accept (or even acknowledge) the views of another. We’re thinking too small if we give in to the mutual exclusivity of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Sadly, though, many of us take challenges to our positions much too personally. Honest feedback and new ideas may be viewed as disloyal or an attack on one’s core values. This is no more true than in the current political environment. Change is seen as weakness; you’re branded as a flip-flopper. And almost any whiff of compromise attracts a potentially ferocious, ad hominem response.
A New York Times editorial [The Donald Trump Pygmalion Project, April 26, 2016] focused on Donald Trump’s behavior and how “Mr. [Paul] Manafort’s ambition is to turn this Eliza Doolittle into a candidate more acceptable to decent society, in time for the general election.” However, Mr. Trump may not agree. He said, “I sort of don’t like toning it down.”
While Mr. Trump still has time to pivot from fiery agitator to energetic statesman, the Democratic insurgent, Bernie Sanders, missed his chance. An explanation may be found from the insurgent candidate of 2004: Howard Dean. In an NPR interview [Campaign Mystery: Why Don't Bernie Sanders' Big Rallies Lead To Big Wins?, April 26, 2016], he admitted, "I couldn't change. And I knew I had to. But the crowd pulls you back. They're dying for you. They're bleeding for you. And it's very hard to do."
The cheers and accolades from a self-selected audience can be intoxicating; it feeds the ego and induces a craving for more. We don’t want to hear what plays well now may not play well later or with others. It seems obvious but we need the strategic vision and the courage to make the shift or, more dramatically, jump the tracks. Temperament, demeanor and behavior really are big deals in building relationships. It’s also crucial in leadership. Carl von Clausewitz, the brilliant 19th century military strategist, noted it is “…the more all-encompassing than the narrowly focused mind, the cooler rather than the hot-tempered mind that we should more readily entrust in war with the well-being of our brothers and children, and the honor and safety of our country.”
Yes, we should stick to our principles but let’s push back against this noxious atmosphere before it actually becomes the new normal. We’re adaptive creatures, after all, and our massive capacity to learn, grow and relate is being stunted. The political or personal pivot (as long as it’s not pandering) should be viewed as nothing more than our natural – though sometimes tumultuous – progression.
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