You can’t turn on a news channel or pick up a newspaper without being bombarded with something about the debt ceiling debate. You hear from the right about how the left is destroying the future of America. You hear from the left about the obstinance of the right taking the reputation of the USA hostage. You hear from the pundits about their ideas of what will work and why they believe the politicians don’t know how to input the “center” on their collective GPS units. All summed up, it’s become a blame game fueled by posturing and politics that have nothing to do with the real problem.

Regardless of which side of the issue you fall, it’s painfully obvious that the actions of many of the people involved seem to indicate a greater concern for career and perpetuating personal ideas and preferences than the genuine problem. I don’t want any comments on this post about which side is right. The focus is on how those involved in this discussion are acting, regardless of whether one side is justified or not.

Unless you are ridiculously fortunate, and have worked more than 5 years, you have seen similar behavior in the workplace…often perpetrated by leadership. It’s quite possible that as a leader you have seen this in certain meetings and initiatives. The problem becomes secondary to a personal agenda or some ulterior motive that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. The issue simply becomes a convenient mechanism or leverage to advance something else. This is toxic to an organization. It creates a culture of distrust and selfishness while it also diminishes profits and productivity. People aren’t blind and, just like much of the current US citizenry, become disenfranchised with the entire process (and leadership) so they switch off and become less engaged.

Here are 4 key factors that lead to debt ceiling-esque behavior and how to avoid them.

  1. Create a culture of “the right thing” – One of the biggest challenges with the debt ceiling debate is people trying to satisfy various groups of people for the sake of keeping their jobs or gaining political leverage. Foster a culture where the right thing is celebrated and embraced. Prior to promotion, look deep for political jockeying and let that be a standard by which all people are promoted. If the posturing bears no favorable result, there would be little appetite for continuing it.
  2. Don’t publicly air your dirty laundry – There will always be fundamental differences between people on certain issues. The manner in which you manage these differences is infinitely more important than the ultimate outcome. While we would all like to think we’re bigger than another person’s accusations, we have a tendency to respond to it unfavorably. There is a desire to “save face”, as it were. Take the major differences behind closed doors and have candid and respectful conversations about how you’re going to deal with those differences publicly. You are not only being quality leaders, but you are coaching your organization on how to manage differences well.
  3. Set your ego aside – We believe things because we deem them to be best, correct and accurate. The funny thing is the people who have a different view are driven by the same convictions (at least most of the time). Taking time to listen and seriously consider the reasons behind someone else’s viewpoint doesn’t mean that you have to adopt that viewpoint. It provides you an opportunity to better understand that person. That is where real progress takes place.
  4. Agree on the problem – If you don’t make the effort to come to an agreement on what the problem is, instead of arguing about which symptom is more important or threatening, then you won’t get very much done. Take some time to have discussions on what the problem is. Then you can dig deeper into why it has come about. Without agreement on this, you’re pretty much going to be talking through your hat with little to no progress.
What else would you add?