In the aftermath of an extremely divisive presidential campaign and post-election protests across the U.S., many people are wondering how our country can move forward amid such political polarity. There are grave concerns that neither side understands the other, and that some of the fallout may be felt the most by minorities and other vulnerable groups.
Regardless of how they voted, many people acknowledge that deep political and social rifts exist today and demand attention. But instead of expecting these problems to be solved by politicians, social activists, or business leaders—the people with power and influence we often describe as “those guys”—we must consider what impact each of us can have as individuals.
To heal from the grassroots up, to amplify the force of good in our country and the world, each of us must realize that “I am ‘those guys.’”
Those Guys to the Rescue
As I wrote in a recent Fortune article, early in my career I observed the common assumption and widespread expectation that “those guys” (a gender-neutral term referring to the bosses and others in charge) would solve the problems. Those of us working in cubicles and on the front lines couldn’t possibly change things or have an impact—or so the thinking went.
That assumption was wrong! As I saw then, and as I tell my students today, each of us has the ability to be one of “those guys.” We can exert a positive influence, starting with our own behavior, the example we set, and our interactions with others.
To counter the divisiveness and anger in our country today, each of us can start a chain reaction for good by recognizing our own power and influence as “those guys.” It starts with embracing the four principles of values-based leadership to guide the way we act, interact, and treat others.
Values-Based Leadership in Action
The first and foundational principle of values-based leadership is self-reflection, identifying what you stand for, what your values are, and what you believe in. By engaging in self-reflection, you take stock (ideally, every day) of how well you keep your commitment to yourself and others, how you treat people, and whether you act in accordance with your values.
The second principle is balance and perspective, which emphasizes the importance of understanding diverse viewpoints and opinions. In a country of more than 350 million people, there are multiple opinions and viewpoints. Some we agree with; some we do not. Sadly, in the wake of the election, racist comments have been made publicly and in social media. But that does not imply that the 62 million people who voted for Trump hold these views. Some people supported Trump because they feel marginalized and left out of the economic opportunities enjoyed by others.
Regardless of how people voted—whether the outcome of the election was what they expected or not—it’s imperative that we strive to understand each other. Balance and perspective foster empathy and encourage meaningful discussions that lead to overcoming differences.
The third principle of true self-confidence enables people to own their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses. For those who are moved to become part of a force for good by volunteering or engaging in other positive actions, true self-confidence can empower them to channel their abilities and interests.
Finally, genuine humility reminds us of the importance of showing respect to everyone—regardless of who they are, where they come from, or how alike/different they are from us. Genuine humility encourages us to make an extra effort to welcome others, particularly those who are fearful or vulnerable.
The Power of the Grassroots
By putting the four principles of values-based leadership into action, we move from powerlessness to being empowered. No matter how anxious or fearful we feel for ourselves or for others, we refuse to stay in victimhood or engage in the blame game. Nor will we sink into negativity or divisive action.
We find our voices and speak out as “best citizens” committed to making a difference. In our communities and neighborhoods, in our churches, synagogues, and mosques, in civic organizations and on college campuses, we take a stand for our values. By word and by example, we demonstrate that certain behaviors are not going to be tolerated.
To move forward, we cannot wait for “those guys” in Washington or elsewhere to do what needs to be done. You, me, us – we are ALL “those guys,” and we will make a difference.
I always appreciate receiving your views and opinions. Here’s wishing everyone a blessed Thanksgiving!