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7.6 Case Study 6: On Opposite Political Sides

“Did you see last night’s primary?” Scott says to his staff during their morning coffee break as a team.

“Yeah. McAllister is going down! That ‘lefty’ annoys me. Talking about big government and ways to spend our hard earned money. No one in their right mind will vote for him. I’ll be celebrating when he loses come November,” Joe notes.

Scott replies, “If this liberal trend keeps up we won’t have any more freedoms. None of us will have jobs when big government steps in.” He sees his colleagues nodding their heads enthusiastically and hears echoes from his team, “Yep, that’s right.”

Scott notices that Amber, who he hired as a sales assistant to the team, is quiet. Maybe she is one of them, he thinks. “Hey Amber, you’re kind of looking quiet over there. What are you, red or blue?”

Amber is a bit hesitant. This is her first professional experience since graduating from college 6 months ago. Most of her teammates are in their mid 40s and have been working with the company for 10 years or more. She does not want any ill feelings, but she also does not agree with the language that is used and the conversation. She certainly does not want to create a bad image of her to her boss. “Well, I don’t think it’s about big taxes. I just don’t like the views of the new GOP candidate,” she says, carefully.

Scott quickly replies, “That doesn’t matter. If you’re voting liberal you’re going to bankrupt our country, and that’s it.”

Amber is taken back by the fierceness in her boss’s tone of voice and decides she will not participate in conversations like this anymore. However, in the next couple of months, her team finds ways to comment about her political views. They have even nicknamed her, calling her “Lefty.” She finds it disturbing that every time she speaks up about her viewpoints, her team instantly fires back with a counterargument—Scott included. When she has gently brought up the issue to her team, they laugh and say, “We’re just joking. Don’t be so sensitive, Lefty.”

Over time, Amber’s motivation and passion for her work decreases. She has become more guarded in her comments, and, at times, she argues back with just as much passion as the others. On the surface, the team gets along but the tensions impact their work together. Amber notices it but is afraid to say anything to Scott. She decides she wants to find another job—it is just easier that way.

  1. What values and beliefs shape the behaviors of the sales team?
  2. How is Scott’s leadership behavior impacting the team?
  3. As Scott’s supervisor, what suggestions or course of actions would you take with Scott?

As a leader, Scott needs to evaluate his self-concept and the impact it has on the team’s culture. Having awareness for how he learned his belief systems and the ways in which the beliefs and attitudes influence the team environment can help Scott to build a more inclusive team. As a leader, he needs to build all areas of his cultural intelligence (CI) including helping his team to understand their ability to work with different cultural situations. If they do not, they isolate anyone who is a part of their team that does not hold the same political beliefs.

CI Model in Action

  • Acquire: First, he must determine the gaps in knowledge that he and his team members have related to different political beliefs. Many of his team members operate from one particular belief system, which they now consider a team characteristic and norm. Using cultural strategic thinking, he could assess the team’s understanding of culture, the gaps in knowledge, and create a vision or goal for what they would like to achieve around cultural understanding.
  • Build: A useful exercise for the team would be to help them change the types of questions they ask each other. Making the shift from judgment to learning can provide them with a different perspective. For example, rather than ask a judgment question like “Are you with us or not?” Scott and his team can ask learning questions such as, “Help me to understand why you agree with the other candidate.”
  • Contemplate: Using mindfulness techniques, the team can evaluate how the political conversations and belief systems “box them” into a specific way of thinking about their worlds. This would require that they are active listeners and observers of the conversation, suspending their judgments of other beliefs and norms. It would serve them well to also learn how to manage their emotions and be able to adapt their behaviors by recognizing the emotions of others.
  • Do: Finally, it would also be useful if Scott and his team took part in an exercise to identify the behaviors that are disruptive and inappropriate. Once the behaviors are called out, they could assess the thought patterns that support the behaviors and the emotions that arise because of the behaviors.