Among the many important traits of the best leaders include motivating people toward achieving a common goal, continually delivering results, and making tough decisions with incomplete information. Being decisive rather than divisive.
The decisive leader is one who can determine the best course of action when no perfect solution is readily available. They decide what to do when complete information is unavailable. They accept that a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment is difficult to navigate yet courageously lean in and move forward.
A decisive leader demonstrates confidence in their ability to make a choice while acknowledging it may prove to be wrong with the passage of time and/or more information. It means accepting that not making a decision can be worse than making the wrong decision.
Divisive leaders, on the other hand, are those who often create chaos, which can lead to polarization and instability. They may build silos, withhold resources or information, and generally compete with coworkers in order to consolidate power or influence. These are leaders in name only.
The divisive leader is one who can easily point out the problems and assign blame but fail to offer help formulate solutions. They move people away rather than bring them together.
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 Leaders are those who look out the window when things are going well and into the mirror when things are going wrong: Looking out the window to give credit to others and looking in the mirror to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. Divisive leaders may very well do the opposite.
Clearly, there are many examples of divisive leaders in both our businesses and our politics. Why they are successful could be that they’re personality, bravado, or deceit is able to mask their true nature. Narcissism can show up as confidence. Boisterous can be perceived as bold. Denials may be seen as persistence or never backing down.
Though it may be difficult to determine which leaders are divisive, once you know, it’s important to get away from them. They might be successful in the short term, but divisive leaders won’t be for long if we refuse to follow or support them. This takes courage to accept that perhaps you made a mistake in working for or voting for them in the first place.
We live at a very divisive time and this is causing real harm to our workplaces and our country. Perhaps the best way to reduce the divisions is to ensure our own behavior doesn’t contribute to this divisiveness.
Think twice before you tweet, retweet, like, or share something on social media and determine whether it’s contributing to the problem or not. Before you speak ill of someone, ask yourself if this is going to be helpful. When others make a disparaging comment about another person, defend that person if you think the comment is unfair.
Choose to be a decisive leader who is able to make hard decisions with incomplete information. Be courageous in accepting that VUCA is the new normal and therefore you often don’t have the luxury of delaying exactly how to best move forward. And refrain from following divisive leadership, wherever you find it.