Over the last few years a lot of research has been done on the science of political thought. Recently psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook had a group of self identified liberals and conservatives play BeanFest. BeanFest is a simple video game where the player sees a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes. Each bean has different numbers of dots on it. The player must choose whether to accept or not to accept each new type of bean when it is presented…without knowing what will happen.
Some beans give points while others take them away. You don’t know which will occur until you pick one.
Liberals tried out all sorts of beans racking up lots of points…but also losing lots of points. In the process they learned about a lot of different types of beans. Conservatives tried out fewer beans. They lost fewer points but gathered less information about different beans.
In other research using personality tests, liberals tend to score higher on openness…the desire to explore, try new things, meet new people. Conservatives score higher on conscientiousness…the desire for order, structure, stability.
A third collection of research has shown that conservatives have a greater focus on the alarming, things that are threatening. The world is a more dangerous place to them.
All this research has been a search to explain the different and often incompatible worldviews of political differences. People on opposite sides of the political spectrum truly do view the world in completely different ways. They live in different worlds and view problems and possible solutions in totally incompatible ways. This difference seems to occur around the world.
While this research is aimed at the political differences we see demonstrated daily, it has major implications for running a successful business and for those in business management and leadership positions. Except for the smallest businesses, most businesses employ people with both these political worldviews. Beyond that, most businesses have suppliers, customers, and prospects that span this divide.
The good news is that mixing people with these disparate ways of viewing the world and acting on these views can lead to more comprehensive corporate thinking that considers all options. Clever managers can align style of thinking with tasks to be done, create teams that come up solutions that are better than those found by a group composed of those who think alike.
The bad news is…you need to figure out how to communicate and operate in ways that accept and engage difference. You need to understand that this difference in worldview and ways of thinking is not good or bad…it’s just different. And through difference fully respected often comes greater strength.
It’s a difficult balancing act for any manager. Balancing the need to get things done in a coordinated and consistent way with the need to allow input from a diverse collection of people who view things through completely different lenses. Those who figure this out come to be leaders rather than managers.
Leadership is a much overused term these days. Too many think it comes from position, but many in supposed positions of leadership aren’t remotely leaders. They’re just managers with the fanciest title.
True leadership comes from painting a vision that pulls in and values all viewpoints. It comes with a certain humility and willingness to listen and hear while staying true to the values and beliefs that underlie everything. True leadership is being able to communicate in ways that both the liberals and conservatives can hear, understand, believe, and follow. True leadership is a rare thing indeed.