You Can't Always Choose Your People, But You Can Always Choose To Act
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
This article is by Sabrina Dalton, our Director of Programs. In addition to running the eMMissary Fellowship she also orchestrates and runs our MMoment conference series. When she's not doing that, homeschooling her kids, or being the best Space Force spouse she can be, she's thinking about big ideas like the one she shares here. Tune in.
There is a scene in the TV show The West Wing that has been forefront in my mind for about six months. To set the stage, two characters, one a Democrat and one a Republican are going back, and forth about different policy perspectives related to gun rights and the Second Amendment. Ainsley, the Republican, stops the conversation and says “did it ever occur to you that it’s not that you don’t like guns, it’s that you don’t like people who like guns. You don’t like the people.“
I keep replaying this scene in my head because, despite the episode being over 20 years old, the spirit of Ainsley's words feels, despondently, timely. The world feels contentious. The workplace feels hostile at times. The “other side” is trying to ruin our nation and destroy our collective future. Every issue and news update reflects a 5-alarm fire. Everyone has an opinion on everything. We all are constantly inferring ill will and intent on those who don’t agree with us.
And yet, leadership has never required agreement and unity across ideology, perspective, position or political affiliation. It requires shared goals, shared vision, and mutual motivation. The best leaders do as Eisenhower so succinctly put it, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” The best leaders are the ones who can get a group to step outside their silo and find common ground with others.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are many times when I prefer to stay in my own echo chamber and information silo. It is easier to not consider perspectives and viewpoints that are different than my own. I generally feel some amount of righteousness in my thoughts and my ego stays intact. But curiosity has always gotten the better of me. Righteousness feels good for a while, I’m not afraid to admit, but then becomes uncomfortable and unwelcoming. I've never been able to stay in my own echo chamber for too long - the conversation isn’t challenging, and the information is so repetitive that it no longer resonates. I'm always grateful to jump back into the ocean of opinions and perspectives and I’ve never regretted checking my bias and staying curious through tough conversations. But the choice to jump back in and engage with ideas that I don’t agree with is just that - a choice. As leaders, we have to choose the path of resistance. We are compelled to disregard individual righteousness and absolutism in favor of the collective purpose and, crucially, we have to bring others along with us.
In the end, the “other side” is not just some agglomeration of ideas. The “other side” is full of people... well-intentioned, good and worthy, people. As a leader, I don’t get to pick and choose who gets to be in my care based on positional preferences and, frankly, I would never want to do that.
Choose the path of curiosity and openness as a leader. See people first and ideology second (or not at all!); our organizations will be better, and stronger, for it.