In a recent meeting at the 2019 NATO summit in London, President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron struggled to see eye to eye. As leaders of NATO, a 70-year-old alliance of 28 countries facing existential threats, the presidents encountered a rather tense exchange discussing the future of NATO.
In a November interview with The Economist magazine, after President Trump withdrew U.S. troops from northeast Syria, President Macron stated, “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO.” That comment later sparked an unusually heated exchange between the two at the summit. While it was a surprising disagreement, given the two have been usually cordial, the interaction exemplifies how leaders can learn to handle civil discourse.
Addressing the French president’s remarks, Trump said, “It is a very tough statement to make when you have such difficulty in France when you look at what is going on. They have had a very rough year. You just can't go around making statements like that about NATO. It is very disrespectful." Macron replied, reinforcing that the two of them agree on most things, including the overall mission of NATO. But, while the French president also acknowledged how much the U.S. has invested in NATO over the past decade, he warned that America may be putting too much emphasis on cost opposed to an overall strategy.
In any form of leadership, you are guaranteed to face opposing opinions with those you are leading with. While you may not always agree, learning how to disagree with civility is essential for leading effectively.
As leaders, we can be used to people following us whether they agree or not. But, in order to achieve our goals and visions, there will come times when we must work with those who we don’t agree with. When leaders are used to their ideas being followed and not challenged, navigating any difference of opinion can be difficult. Yet, if we can learn to return to the basics of civic discourse, we can then disagree more civilly and also be more productive working with one another.
There are a few practical steps in acting out of civility which will allow you to better handle and navigate disagreements with fellow leaders.
Be accepting of everyone. Most often when we disagree with others, it shows — whether we say it or not. The first step to ensuring we can lead in civil discourse is treating others as equal, no matter how differently they may think. Rather than being standoffish or unfriendly, we should always lead by example, engaging others with courtesy. Being silent or stonewalling will only shut down any opportunity to work productively together.
Present your point of view peacefully with clarity. Often we feel that in order for our voices to be fully heard, we have to amplify them to our fullest capacity. Although, most of the time, it is our choice of words which offers the most effective delivery, not our level of volume. Your convictions should never be expressed at the expense of someone else. Rather, when you can present a difference of opinion with self-control and decorum, you will gain ears and respect.
Learn to not burn bridges. It is a simple and nearly elementary lesson, but as we get older it can become more difficult to not burn bridges. As mature as we may be in our leadership, holding resentment and bitterness towards any individual reveals a lack of maturity. Maintaining relationships is a matter of development within both our leadership and our personal growth. By letting go of personal offenses, and caring for the working relationships in our lives, we can rid ourselves (and everyone else) of the harbored stress it can cause. Maintaining these relationships allows us to remain open to unseen possibilities in the future of our work.
The simple practice of civic discourse has lost its place in our society and workplaces. But if we desire to grow in our businesses, we must practice the art of civility in our networking and in our careers. Critique and honesty are vital to any relationship, and disagreements are often unavoidable. Yet if we can begin to disagree with civility, we can then lead in the clarity and honesty that is essential to lead effectively.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern’s president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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