Some thirty five years ago I was encouraged by one who knew the game to consider a career in politics. Putting aside any temptation to indulge in such a heady notion, and all of the other reasons to reject this counsel, I focused on, and replied to my friend in terms of, one issue: constitutionally, I don’t have the ability to take and state positions aligned near the poles of either party, on most any issue.
I shade left on some calls, right on a few more, but hardly ever am moved to hold positions, or push arguments beyond a moderate view that encompasses an appreciation for the other side.
Even in those somewhat less polarized days, and without any nuanced understanding of primary and general election realities, my earlier self believed this to be a fatal flaw for one aspiring to elected office.
Perhaps I was proud of my moderate and reasonable tendencies. Or perhaps I was simply afraid to get into the fray, and put at risk the possibility of losing a referendum on me.
In the commercial realm, where I have accepted, and in fact sought, leadership responsibilities subject to assessments expressed in public and private, my instincts also run toward finding centers — areas of agreement, common ground, opportunities for mutual understanding leading to mutual success — rather than sharp differences and one-sided wins.
In the large, this tendency has worked out for me. While I’ve had some noted failures in my day, I’ve been a part of more progress, across a pretty wide front, than of setbacks. And that guy in the morning reflection feels OK while shaving.
I’m certain that I’ve left opportunities unaddressed, in all realms. With harder edges and a simplified focus on attainment of goals, some other version of me could have done more, gone further, and meant more. But then, they wouldn’t be my accomplishments — they’d be his.
Effectiveness in business depends on the gut appreciation that it’s conducted by, my phrasing, “those warm squishy things called humans,” and that they don’t all think and feel as you. In fact, none do. It goes on, at least in the theme of my thoughts here, to benefit greatly from reflection on the words of George Bernard Shaw, “All progress is made by unreasonable men.”
The ability to win the trust and respect of those that don’t see through your eyes, have had your experiences, or share your judgements, especially those at greatest odds with your center (in my case perhaps the principle-first standard-bearers), and to add their sharp voices, their perhaps messy but certainly necessary contributions to the mix, is what a leader must rise to accomplish if he wants to push forward toward any worthwhile accomplishment.
I have never crossed any finish line without their contributions. I value greatly those voices that could not be mine. In business, I smile on those occasions where they sing in a chorus I’ve helped assemble, and am deeply disappointed when I fall short toward this effort.
It is through this lens that I view our current politics. Polarized. Dysfunctional. Embarrassing, and at times seemingly incomprehensible. An avowed socialist? PT Barnum raised from the dead?
Well, I believe that those voices are of, and indeed required in, our time. They are needed to direct great buckets of cold water toward the faces of the sober, reasonable crowd who have allowed rot to take to our roots.
That sober, reasonable crowd has at least one recognizable face in it.