Toxic politics have no place in the workplace

As the discourse becomes more toxic, and opinions more entrenched, will political differences limit possibilities for employees in the workplace in ways that race and gender have in the past?

Our ability to engage in civil conversation about politics with curiosity and respect is rare. I have been particularly struck by the ease with which select business leaders have made disparaging remarks about the president of the United States in public meetings. I don’t know who that serves.

Differences in opinion are a healthy dynamic. Hostility and name calling only serves to divide and alienate.

Whether we are discussing the governor’s office or the office of the president, we have lost our capacity to appreciate that the office itself invites our respect even if we are not in agreement with the politics of the person in office.

Before Scott Walker reclaimed the governor’s office, a prominent Milwaukee leader regularly announced that if the governor did not win the recall, he would move his company out of the state.

While each of us has the right to our political opinion, I have wondered what it might be like to work in an organization knowing that my political allegiance may not be in alignment with the CEO. Are political differences costing employees opportunities to advance if they risk making public where they stand in the world of politics? Are leaders missing the collective wisdom of all employees who may be fearful of expressing any difference of opinion because they know how strongly a leader reacts to political difference?

At the BizTimes’ BizExpo this year, Sheldon Lubar, founder of Lubar & Co., and recipient of the BizTimes Bravo Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award, courageously asked for a return to respect and civility in our political discourse. Reflecting on the bitterness and polarization in our state in the last several months, he issued a call to action saying, “We must respect each other and understand that none of us is always right or always wrong.”

Likewise, in Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind,” he wrote: “Wisdom … requires us to take the logs out of our own eyes and then escape from our ceaseless, petty and decisive moralism … in order to understand one another a little better.”

With a belief that colleagues and employees want to create a good life for themselves, their families and generations to come, business leaders have a unique opportunity to invite mutual respect by modeling behaviors that celebrate differences rather than defend positions. Leaders have an opportunity to examine how their own political biases may be impacting individuals and organizational culture. The responsibility rests with leaders to ensure that employees in their organization are not denied advancement because of their political views.

I look forward to hearing stories about leaders who, like Sheldon Lubar, invite dialogue that supports a safe platform for respectful political differences in the workplace and beyond.

Do you believe we are up to the challenge? Are you willing?

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