Cohesion: The uncomfortable truth
By JOSEPH TAN
As we celebrate Malaysia Day on Sep 16, we are reminded of our national pride stemming from a multi-cultural society. Slogans and depictions of different races living in harmony with each other represent a utopia of integration and cohesion.
While these are all worthwhile images of how things could be, there is a lack of understanding of how to get there. Unity is a look, like bodybuilding – we all aspire to have that “body”, but are unwilling to go through the process, effort and sacrifice of “building”.
Cohesion is the structure of what you see; however, there is a more fundamental precursor, which forms the foundation.
Does tolerance form the foundation of cohesion? I beg to differ. In fact, tolerance by itself leads to an accumulated state of unresolved, unspoken grievances and misunderstanding, which can be triggered some time in the future.
Tolerance only makes sense if there is something pre-existing, which is deeper. What about love? Surely, love makes the world go round. Yes, love is important; however, love comes in many shapes and sizes.
What is the basis and foundation by which you define love? What is loving to one person might not be loving to the other.
The courage to face the truth
“Superficiality is the curse of our age.” – Richard Foster
There can be no unity without first taking a real hard look at our current situation of disunity. The courage to face the truth can be summed up in one word: honesty. With so many policies being in place by government leaders around the world to rein in elements of disunity, there is the tendency to neglect the foundational truth about integrity – honesty is the best policy.
This might interest you: How To Create A Legacy Of Disunity At The Workplace
In this age of open communication, the constituents of any nation cannot be easily fooled by superficial policies or slogans. There is a fundamental need to first come clean on the elements of disunity, then we can begin the task of rebuilding.
The obstacle of “coming clean” often lies not with the mindset of the followers – it usually resides in the thinking of the leaders. There is a blind spot in their thinking that all is well, when those on the ground are feeling otherwise.
It is no wonder then that companies are now turning up their efforts to survey their employees for the state of engagement and connectedness. In Gallup’s worldwide study of the state of engagement in 2013, it is revealed that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged.
The state of cohesion (or the lack thereof) is a serious issue, which requires the first step of honest reflection. When leaders humbly reflect on the real state of the union, then there is hope.
The false sense of security – believing that all is well when it is actually not – is produced when the leaders surround themselves with advisors who are more concerned with guarding their personal agenda rather than addressing the real needs of the followers.
Figuratively speaking, leaders who are disconnected from their followers seek advisors who tickle their ears with affirming feedback, rather than truthful messages.
If you are committed to face the truth, here are two important steps:
- Seek feedback from your followers – especially the influential ones. Look beyond personality differences and be open to receive honest comments (the truth often hurts, but if dealt with objectively, it will have a healing effect).
- Sincerely apologise – people are inspired by authenticity. Although charisma gets your message across, it is sincerity that moves people towards cohesion. In other words, humility is key.
The courage to forge the truth
“Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” – Horace Greeley
Nothing disperses cohesion as quickly as a hypocritical leader. Most organisations spend a tremendous effort in crafting their vision and mission, hoping that inspirational copywriting will encourage passionate responses from their employees.
Yet, this is not balanced with an emphasis on ensuring that leaders are held accountable with regard to demonstrating the mission. How can leaders expect the cohesiveness of people pulling in the same direction if they themselves do not walk the talk?
In my engagements with clients, the most common request I get is to provide teambuilding solutions. A factory manager once requested that I produce a two-day teambuilding programme to “fix” the morale and cohesiveness of the production team and yet, when I inquired about the participation from the teams’ supervisors, the response was that the supervisors are too busy to attend.
The manager wanted me as an external consultant to fix the problem on behalf of the supervisors.
In other words, “please baby-sit my people and turn them around in my absence”.
Leadership is more caught than taught. Managers should not expect integration and cohesion from their team members if they don’t bother to show up regularly.
In fact, research from Gallup indicates that as far as engagement is concerned, a negative manager performs better than an absent manager.
If you are committed to forging the truth, here are two bold steps to take:
- Stand up for your team – it is common practice that we stand up for our clients and advocate their needs. Why not we demonstrate the same commitment to protect and advance the needs of our employees as well?
- Speak up against corruption – not just on issues of bribery or monetary malpractices, but also on matters of injustice and deviations from agreed standards. Cohesion is determined not by soliciting popularity, but through standing by right principles.
The divisiveness of unity
The uncomfortable truth is this: In order to build unity, there must be a clear division between right and wrong.
Unless leaders provide clarity about the current situation (facing the truth, acknowledging the deviations from agreed standards) and are committed to lead by example (forging the truth, demonstrating right behaviour and attitudes), then there can only be the appearance of integration and cohesion, because any perceived unity is built on very shaky grounds.
Joseph Tan is CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. His passion is to work with performance-focused leaders to capture the hearts and minds of their employees through a strengths-based and accountability-driven approach. Much of what is shared in this article comes from his work as a Gallup-certified strengths coach. If you would like to enhance the engagement level of your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.
Joseph is Leaderonomics faculty trainer where he is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations.