Have you ever heard someone, maybe even yourself, say this:
“If they’re not for us, they’re against us?”
Many leaders love to adopt the philosophy of “us vs. them” to help define and solidify a sense of camaraderie and organizational identity. It also serves to reinforce – or coerce – loyalty and competition among employees by characterizing the tendency to question or operate differently as a form of betrayal. And though the coercion motive is mostly frowned upon, most people tend to believe there is some degree of truth in the “us vs. them” mentality.
But what if we’re wrong? What if the “division for the sake of unity” tactic actually harms you and your business? Do you truly understand the ramifications of cultivating such a negatively-based competitive environment like this?
Here are few obvious repercussions:
- A culture of paranoia
- Posturing and intimidation as standard workplace behavior
- Vindictive communication
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Short-lists of “good” and “bad” that foster more rivalry than collaboration
- Hyper-competitive actions in the marketplace with loose moral standards
- Slander and malice as everyday tactics
- Disloyal culture
All these things affect people and the families they go home to every night: Stress increases. Productivity decreases. Conflict grows.
Blackballing every group or person whom you deem is not “for you,” and is therefore adamantly “against you,” is no way to live. Nor is it an effective way to do business. Last time I checked, there is little research to suggest a net-positive effect on productivity, culture, or competitive advantage when the workplace encourages burning bridges, fostering enmity, or adopting a cut-throat modus operandi. Ask Enron how that worked out for them. Better yet, watch the documentary “The Smartest Guys in the Room” and then determine whether you want to emulate such a culture.
Flip the Script
Instead, try flipping the philosophy to something resembling this:
“Anyone who is not against us, is (or could be) for us.”
This statement highlights only those who are obviously and notably against you, which for most of us would be a very small amount. It assumes, then, that unless it’s clear someone is actively working against you, then they are or have the potential to be for you. Such a change in approach fosters a mindset and strategy of growth, opportunity, and collaboration – the hallmarks of sustainable profitability and company culture.
Meanwhile, the alternative outdated philosophy puts the pressure on others to be notably for you in order to avoid condemnation as outright enemies.
In all fairness, it’s easy to slide into the habit of pressuring others to be over-the-top “for me” – as if they must become dedicated heralds of your business and no other, or else they are against you.
Honest and regular evaluation of the competitive landscape is not only good, but healthy and essential. However, paranoid and vicious demands of “my way or the high way” shut down the benefits of varied perspectives and partnerships, whether inside or outside of your company. If others feel a heavy pressure to declare constant and unwavering support for each idea or decision you make, then you are endangering your business rather than helping it.
Stop Burning Bridges
Though the following statement may vary based on situation (inside or outside the company, etc), a friend of GiANT once put it this way, “Relax. They are on our side. They want to do good things for others, let them. Don’t claim that only you can do that. They are obviously not against us so let them be.”
For many of you, we hope this blog post will serve as both a confession and a profession. A confession to perpetuating a philosophy that may actually be hindering you rather than serving you, and a profession of collaboration that will extend further and wider than you previously thought possible. Try to consider that everyone who is not obviously against you may actually be for you, or at least in concert with you, even if they bring a different perspective to what you do.
Ultimately, it’s up to you, but rest assured that if you start viewing others as partners to be embraced rather than enemies to be eliminated, you will find more partners than traitors, and your business will grow stronger for it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the “us vs. them” mentality affects your leadership, we’re happy to schedule a meeting to discuss. Just click the contact button and let us know!