Want to lead well and bring people in from the margins? Lift your gaze

Posted on 07 Feb 2024

By Adele Stowe-Lindner, general manager, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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Leadership can mean looking up, writes Adele Stowe-Lindner

The past eight years or so – roughly since Trump’s first presidential campaign – have seen opinions and language increasingly polarised.

Positions have become more extreme and more entrenched, and people seem less able to engage with one another. The raised eyebrows and disapproving comments of a decade ago have largely been replaced by people claiming to have been cancelled for saying the wrong thing, or feeling too uncomfortable at the prospect of saying the wrong thing to say anything at all, or remaining silent for fear of copping abuse.

ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner

The damage this can cause to workplace culture is significant. We know that a psychologically safe work environment is necessary for innovation, creativity and problem solving. In such an environment, people can raise problems and raise their head above the parapet without fear of recrimination, whether that’s social shaming, online abuse or missing out on a promotion.

A couple of years ago, the polarisation that feeds influencers like Andrew Tate as much as it feeds the hard left was not much commented upon. But by 2023, the Gender Compass, among other research, was pointing to polarisation as a significant factor in less fair outcomes for women. Algorithms have always created echo chambers, but now we’re talking about them, where before they operated in the dark.

What does this mean for 2024? The shouters and trolls will inevitably carry on shouting and trolling, and fear of abuse will continue to motivate good people to stay quiet on issues they care about. We might even hit rock bottom. And if we do, let’s hope for a bounce. Change has to start somewhere. Instead of a backlash against a perceived extreme, what about a middle-lash – an attempt to bring people back from their polarised language and positions.

In 2024 we may see more leaders willing to gamble their own reputations to suggest that adults and children alike should be able to hold two (and more) opposing truths in their mind at the same time. Or at least engage in a healthy way with those who disagree. We may have an opportunity to talk with one another and respectfully challenge each other’s opinions without fear of losing a friend or a workplace. We might learn that attempts to create change work best when people feel heard and respected.

A giraffe stands tall, reaching its head up. It aims for the leaves at the top of the tree, not competing for those at the bottom. From its vantage point, a giraffe can see the needs of the whole community. It can see what needs to be done to prepare for the next horizon. We might imagine a giraffe would get lonely up there, but it doesn’t have to be so. If the tail end of 2023 is anything to go by, we will see more giraffe leaders in 2024.

More information

Community Directors Intelligence: More reports about NFP trends you must know

Ten tips for leading in a polarised world

More of Adele's leadership insights

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