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Main Street: Promoting civility is best form of protest

October 11, 2018

Often, we are placed in a position to be a “coaching leader.” With our country divided regarding politics and protests regarding the national anthem, civility is at a premium.

The television media loves to promote civil disobedience, even though we all have the right to protest (peaceably), the message of the “why” is lost in the translation of the “how.”

Recently, we have seen professional football players kneel in disrespect to the national anthem regarding police brutality. That is the “why,” but as a marketing professor, I often ask my class to critically think and have an honest and open discussion if this protest is effective if the viewers don’t understand the true message over the intent of the protest?

The message then becomes an “us” versus “them” mentality, and nothing is achieved.

Similarly, the televised United States Senate confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh were an utter disgrace. While I am not advocating the merits of his qualifications, the proceedings were rife with strife, discord, protests and incivility.

If this is what our government promotes in reviewing the highest judicial appointment of the land, no wonder we often are at a stalemate to get legislation passed in Congress. We are better than this and should demand better from our elected representatives.

Further illustrating the point of civility, actor Richard Dreyfuss said, “Civility is not saying negative or harsh things. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we are sharing this territorial freedom of political discussion. If our discourse is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, that’s uncivil.”

But as with other forms of protest, the message gets lost in the translation of the behavior. We can and should have civil discourse with one another. We can and certainly must advocate for the rights of others, the marginalized citizens in society, the voiceless, as well as the homeless. How we engage in the process is equally as important as the message itself.

Mindfully, James Hunt and Joseph Weintraub authored a book titled, “The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business.” I would like to highlight some of their salient points and then discuss how to add this to your leadership domain.

Offering a unique viewpoint on human behavior, Hunt and Weintraub offer some compelling points to review in managing the behavior of others and are broken down as follows:

• Supporting behaviors: Trust and openness, tolerance of mistakes, careful attention to hiring the right people, learning for the long term is important, reward systems shouldn’t punish time spent developing people, and people should be valued as individuals.

• Inhibiting values: Mistrust and fear, intolerance of mistakes — blaming the perpetrator, lack of careful attention to hiring that supports competence, focusing single-mindedly on evaluating today’s performance, reward systems focusing on short-term results, and people are a “means to an end.”

Given the distinct differences between supporting behaviors and inhibiting values, we can see where the communication of the message breaks down. Supporting behaviors promote trust and civility, while inhibiting values degrade others and promote the leader’s agenda over all others.

Articulating this to the next level, leaders need to be coaching managers as well. According to Hunt and Weintraub, coaching mangers believe that by helping their employees or direct reports develop, everybody comes out ahead. The coaching process envelopes the ability to aid the employee’s development, which will assist in building the overall capability of their business.

An important theme connects the leader with the coaching manager. For example, given the disparity in control over the Senate confirmation hearings, there was a lack of civility, childish theatrics and disruption and chaos caused by the protesters and even the senators conducting the hearings.

If the senior member of the Senate minority party exhibited control and civility, their points regarding the confirmation process would have been more advantageous to the intended audience. Instead, the viewers and participants of the hearings were treated as lemmings being led off the cliff by the pied piper.

These examples, as presented in this article, are not to take a position regarding the merits of the judicial candidate or the theatrics of the NFL players protesting the anthem; rather, it shows a concerted effort by leaders not attaining the status of exemplary coaching managers.

Certainly, as leaders, empathy and concern for their personnel and others is a requirement for good leadership, while castigating others and cheap theatrics detract from the intended and real message trying to be sent to the audience.

Therefore, coaching managers do not fix people but problems. Attacking other people and dissonant behavior only cement civil discord between conflicting parties. Instead, we should encourage honest and open dialogue to address the issue and come up with workable solutions to the pervasive problem at hand.

Finally, people should never be treated as a “means to an end.” In leadership, we call this being “played,” and certainly in marketing, we have seen companies trying to take advantage of a political or controversial issue to sell more of their product. I will leave the ethics of this to another article.

In the long run, a coaching manager should strive to demonstrate self-awareness, promote learning among his or her team members, is an effective communicator, is accessible, demonstrates effective listening and creates an environment and culture of trust.

In the end, you might just find that promoting civility is the best form of protest.

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