Ushering In an Era of Civility - In Our Country & Our Organizations

Author: Katherine Ratkiewicz | Source: HCI | Published: January 20, 2011

January 8th marked the latest tragedy in our nation’s history, when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet between Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents outside a Tucson supermarket, killing six people and wounding 13 others.  Many of us have been glued to the TV, the radio, and the Internet, trying to learn more about why this happened, what this means for our nation, and how it will impact our lives.

The effect of this tragedy on our nation, and particular in our political environment, was significant – it raised a number of questions about the tone of the nation’s political discourse, the issue of gun rights as well as the security measured offered to elected officials. More broadly though, I think we can all agree that the political environment in this country has become toxic. And nothing is worse for an organization’s productivity and effectiveness than toxicity.

In times like these, we look to our leader to help explain what happened, and what we can do to move forward. We look for inclusive leadership. President Obama addressed a memorial service in Tucson on Jan. 12, calling on all Americans to draw a lesson from the lives lost and the actions of the heroes and to “usher in a new era of civility in their honor”. This concept of civility is an important one that should absolutely be applied to our nation – but also our organizations. It can seem counter to our initial feelings and instincts when we are approached with an organizational problem or mistake that needs explaining and fixing; if a business unit is underperforming or at odds with another, it often leads nowhere good. During these times, it is critical not to revert to finger-pointing, blaming, or divisiveness because it only exacerbates the problem and doesn’t lead to a fast solution. 
We rely on our leaders to resist divisiveness and help us feel like we’re all in this together. Nations, just like businesses, can’t operate effectively unless people understand that their success is dependent on the success of the team and the entire enterprise. But that message can’t be truly understood and incorporated into the minds of the people unless leaders convey the true benefits that people can enjoy from an organization’s collective success. President Obama was able to make this point on the national stage which has already led to some significant shifts in rhetoric and even some exciting changes for our politics and partisanship (even if only symbolically). 
Next week we’ll hear from President Obama when he delivers the State of the Union Address. It comes at such an important time - we have a new Republican Majority in the House, we have a divided political landscape, and we are recovering from this latest tragedy. We can bet that his call for a more civil public discourse will be a central thrust of his address to the joint session of Congress. The promising news is that  it seems that President Obama’s message has been heard loud and clear already… In an attempt to take action on Obama’s call for a new era of civility – Senator Mark Udall (D – Colorado) – has suggested ending the tradition of separating congress into Republican and Democratic camps (at least physically, during the State of the Union). He said, in a letter to his colleagues, that the current seating arrangement offers a negative symbol of division. And what a good time to make this change – this is a moment when our nation’s lead sets the agenda for the year and addresses the challenges and opportunities we face. By Republicans and Democrats sitting together during this address – it will show the country and the world that we are making a deliberate attempt to remove the toxicity from our political environment – and that our elected officials are coming together for the good of the country we all love. 
The beginning of the year is a good time for each of us to consider what the “State of the Union” is at our organizations. Let’s push ourselves to go beyond our typical rhetoric, let’s move to the new era of civility. Where are the problems? Where does the toxicity stem from? How can we symbolically come together? How can we truly come together? Let’s all take a lesson from President Obama and strive for a new era of civility in our lives, in our workplaces, in our communities. 
There are always lessons to draw from our politics and economics that we can apply to our organizations. At this year’s HCI Human Capital Summit we’ll hear from important leaders that will draw these connections for us – don’t miss your opportunity to hear from Robert Kennedy Jr. and Elaine Chao as they cover these important topics as we plan for a true economic recovery this year.