After two years of Covid, people have rarely been more polarized. As a result, there has hardly been a time with a greater need for bridge-building leadership.
The sources of dispute are legion: vax policies, government health guidelines, travel restrictions, mask-wearing requirements, balancing individual and community rights and managing economic impacts on businesses. Our society seems to be increasingly polarized.
People imbued in these dynamics then come to work. In recent discussions with family business leaders, one common perception is that the workplace is the scene of more conflict and that people are “increasingly comfortable getting mad at one another.” A situation which is a challenge for leaders. First, let us discuss some flashpoints of polarization and finish with some ideas on how to respond.
First, and most obviously, is the divide over the reach of government and the balance of citizens’ rights and the common good. At the direction of its public health officials, the government tries to implement policies to safeguard people and manage the health care system. Hence, mask mandates and restrictions on businesses and churches. Yet, at the same time, people have their rights and may not want to be vaccinated or wear masks. The differing views over this approach have reared their ugly head in many venues.
Second, there is a divide over very different concepts of work. Today Canada has the lowest unemployment (around 5.3%) since statistics started being kept in 1976—so employees have leverage. They don’t like it; they leave. More remote work, enabled by technology, is here to stay—whether or not employers want it. Boomers—often the bosses—are more inclined to think that real work happens at the office. There is a great chasm—and the consequences are significant.
Third, there are divides across generations: Gen Z (b 1997-2012), Millennials (b 1981-1996), Gen X (b 1965-1980) and Boomers (b 1955-1964). The issues range from homeownership to the environment. Concerning homeownership, younger generations face the prospect of being life-long renters, whereas Boomers have built up equity in increasing markets over time. Regarding the environment, views vary on the scale of importance and urgency. Will Boomers invest in initiatives that don’t benefit them but only future generations?
How do you build bridges across these chasms? A starting point is actively listening to differing views; we should become accustomed to others who don’t think like us. This type of leadership seems to be a counter-cultural approach now. However, a focus on bridge-building is needed direly in a fractured society.
Fostered by providing a safe and positive environment, this approach allows employees to collaborate productively. This environment is facilitated via a shared corporate vision, mission and values. Without a compelling and clearly communicated shared vision, the default approach is to focus only on one’s own situation and perspective.
There is an essential role for bridge-building leadership which can inspire people with a vision of the common good. This approach will start bridging the chasms in a post-pandemic polarized world, and the more successful companies will reflect an ability to do so.
By Rick Goossen
Rick has extensive experience with high net worth individuals and families, working with them in both a financial and governance capacity. He thrives on understanding the business and entrepreneurial journey of individuals and families and then using creative and strategic thinking skills to help them succeed.
This material contains the current opinions of the author and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material is distributed for informational purposes only. Nicola Wealth is registered as a Portfolio Manager, Exempt Market Dealer and Investment Fund Manager with the required securities commissions.