Despite whether you’re a YES or a NO this week, let’s focus on what we can all agree on. THE GAP must be closed.
For those of you living outside of Australia; I am referring to the Referendum in which Australian citizens were asked to vote either YES or NO to a change in our constitution for a Voice to Parliament – a representative body selected by indigenous peoples to have a say on decisions that affect their people. The result was in favour of the negative. Whilst 13 million Australians voted yes, 17 million said no. That’s a 40/60 split.
Saturday night was a difficult night for many Australians. Like many households, I was with family members glued to the television as the results of the Referendum unfolded and our Prime Minister spoke to the nation, officially declaring the NO as the majority vote.
The family members I was with represented a split vote. Two of us were YES; two of us were NO. Despite agreeing not to talk politics at the start of the evening for fear of ruining a perfectly good meal, we kept finding ourselves locked in debate about who was right and who was wrong, justifying our arguments and inferring (or even sometimes directly declaring) the other parties’ points as ignorant. Luckily, we love each other and are willing to forgive quickly or the night could have taken a decided turn for the worse!
The fact of the matter is – there are pros and cons to both sides of the debate. Just because the majority voted NO, does not mean the YES voters were wrong and the NO voters were right. Majority vote does not validate inherent correctness. What it does do is validate the readiness of the nation to change, the skill of the debaters to debate, and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to influence.
When our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton spoke to the nation on Saturday night – they both shared their views. There were many points on which they did not agree. What I want to call out is the one point they both agree on. The one point that can not be overlooked. The unacceptable, irrefutable fact that our First Nations people suffer from insidious, systemic disadvantage creating THE GAP; and that this cannot be allowed to continue.
THE GAP is the wide chasm of difference in advantage between First Nations peoples (who represent 3.8% of our population) and all other Australians, marred by shameful statistics that our First Nations people win on almost any metric to which nobody wishes to score. Suicide, chronic illness, early mortality, incarceration, mental illness, unemployment, domestic violence, drug addiction, child abuse. You name it, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders lead on just about every measure of misfortune.
If nothing else – the events of the past months have pulled the plight of our First Nations peoples into sharp, hard to swallow, focus. This week at least, their daily fight for existence is at the forefront of conversation about policy in both public and private sectors alike. This focus and concentration of effort is well overdue. I take heart in this fact and hope that the groundswell for change and action leads to more productive outcomes for all of us.
How does this relate to the everyday experience of you and I as leaders in business? Apart from taking an interest and doing what we can to close THE GAP, I am calling on this very real and very relevant example because I often see leaders and leadership teams fall prey to the same dynamics of debate and compromise played out on a national scale this week in Australia.
Consider this common scenario. The CEO starts the meeting with “we’re down on our targets; we need to increase revenue”. The sales manager pipes up with “well, I think there’s lots of opportunity in X customer”. The operations manager rebuffs with “I don’t agree. I think we can get better at thinking ahead with our best customer and offer more incentives for upfront investment”.
And we’re off! Two protagonists going at it with opposing points of view. Everyone else in the room feels compelled to take a side. Power dynamics come into play – who’s scratching who’s back, who’s in who’s pocket, and so forth. The CEO watches the game like a match of tennis. Back, forth, back, forth, DEUCE.
Hang on a sec……what if they’re both right? Or what if neither of those solutions are realistic right now? What if the other participants of the meeting have other ideas about how to generate revenue? Instead, we’ve lost time playing the debating game. We’ve lost energy manoeuvring relationship dynamics. And we’ve lost the motivation to innovate or be creative because there’s bad blood tainting the water. That’s not a win-lose scenario. That’s a lose-lose scenario.
Whilst debate is a necessary evil of the democratic process (why can’t we seek more bipartisanship??!!), it isn’t necessary in the boardroom or team meeting. Yet we keep falling prey to the debate dynamic.
Where there’s debate; there’s compromise. Debates are a great way to test and tease out pros and cons. To weigh arguments. But in every debate – there are winners, and losers. They force one side to compromise to the will of the other. In the boardroom, instead of seeking a vote, seek consensus. The events of the past week in Australia are a very real and very costly example of the consequences of debate and compromise.
Seeking consensus is about no compromises. It’s about building on one another’s ideas. It’s about letting go of your own idea if it is not supported. It’s about seeking what’s best for the organisation, what’s best for its people, customers, and what’s going to get more buy-in overall, than what scores individual career points. It’s about believing that every person in the room has the potential to add value. That with the right people and the right intention, we’re better together.
To lead in business or politics, is to create the opportunity for consensus. To invite multiple inputs. To listen. To accept where our points and arguments don’t stand up. To let go of the need to be right, and instead pursue excellence.
The next time you find yourself locked in debate – switch your statements to questions. Invite input and be willing to consider the alternative view. Have an open mind and role model what open-mindedness looks like. Be curious instead of certain. Allow yourself to experience empathy for the other’s point of view. This may not change your mind; but it will allow the door to open to new possibilities. Observe what this does for your capacity to innovate ways to address the real problems you encounter every day.
Don’t fall prey to the debate dynamic. Seek consensus, not compromise.