OPINION: A few months back, I heard Mike Hosking trying to interview a Green Party member of Parliament. I say “trying” because, as much as the interviewer wanted to bring the conversation back to something rational, the interviewee would have none of that.
The MP concerned had an opinion which, not unusually, was at the extreme end of what most of us would find believable or acceptable. But, come hell or high water, she was going to express that opinion, irrespective of what questions the interviewer chose to ask. The journalist wrapped up the discussion with an air of frustration and resignation.
It reminded me of the person with the megaphone, on the street corner, shouting their views out across the landscape as those passing by displayed varying indications of disinterest. Irrespective of what the people on the street think, or the questions that might be asked, the megaphone view and only that view, however extreme, seems to matter.
We are seeing a new wave of politicians on both sides of the political stage who have grown up trying to be heard. Typically, these passionate people have a strength of belief in their particular cause that means that they are unable to listen to, or even allow, another view.
This makes them impossible to argue with. Many of these people are now sitting in the Government or other positions of responsibility, and the strength of their belief, coupled with their passion to debate the fact, makes them highly effective and potentially dangerous.
Left-wing governments tend to be dominated by people who have cut their teeth challenging the more conservative establishment. Megaphone people. Shouters, not listeners.
At the other end of the political spectrum, we have seen the emergence of far-right political views gaining traction, particularly in Europe.
Although they have different agendas, they use the same tactics to be heard. Shouters, not listeners.
Of course, in many cases, we have those who challenge the establishment to thank for our progress. Constructive change agents have brought women the vote, ended wars, developed technology and otherwise changed the way we live.
Right now, societies around the world are in the middle of debates about harassment, bullying, drug reform, climate change, border security, race relations, financial freedoms, diversity, equality and so on.
Many of these discussions started because someone stood up and expressed a different view. However, as we progress, we need cautious acceptance of the cause in order to balance the extreme views being offered.
In business, we will often get challenged by the shouters. As slow-moving governments wrestle with change, the outcomes often take years to materialise and impact us.
In business, however, the outcomes of change are more immediate. More successful if we get it right. More damaging if we get it wrong.
Because we are close to the action, we are constantly reminded by our people and our customers that they don’t like surprises, and they don’t want extreme responses.
As a result, businesspeople, (by necessity) tend to take a more balanced view of the challenges and challengers they face. It’s great to have people speaking up. In fact, it’s essential.
But whatever cause our people or our customers might be championing needs to be understood, have pros and cons weighed, and be constructively considered, before decisions can be made.
So, whatever the topic, you need a debate, with both sides properly represented and considered. Getting the balance right is critical to a successful outcome. Many of the societal debates are one-sided. The passionate person with the megaphone now has a new tool. It’s called social media.
Added to that is a media that loves sensationalism, and is ever eager for a new angle. The loonies at either end of the political spectrum are much more interesting than the conservative representative trying to steer a safe course somewhere down the middle.
And so, the crazies get the airtime and they get their message out. It’s no co-incidence that the arrival of multiple additional news and communication channels has resulted in the arrival of more diverse political representation.
The more cautious view does not get the same level of attention. The Brexit vote was a classic example. The extreme view – to leave the EU – was heavily promoted. The status quo view was less interesting and thus, less galvanising. No one was more surprised than the voters themselves that they had voted for change. As a result, it’s a painful change process, with many calling for another vote.
The most important role of any leader or manager, in politics or business, is to be a listener rather than a shouter.
Because it is the middle view, where we accept the challenge presented by a desire for change, and steer a safe and balanced course somewhere between the centre and the extreme, that is often where we need to end up.
Just as businesspeople are forced to take responsibility for smart though cautious change, the world’s politicians need to do the same.
The alternative is that we end up pandering to the short term whims of the minority that shouts the loudest.
If you enjoyed this article, remember to comment, like or share – and you may enjoy checking out my latest book – “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout“.