How do we find ourselves in a culture of defiance?
Defiance is the open disregard or even contempt of something or someone.
I’ve seen defiant cultures in several different organizations. In two cases, it was a Union workforce that defied any management policy. I’ve been doing some digging, plus reading the news, and doing some critical thinking; and I’m closing in on what I believe to be the root cause of this kind of defiance.
I’m almost convinced that a defiant culture, whether in an organization, or a nation, flows from distrust of the opposition based on false or exaggerated claims by influential people in leadership roles. When leaders, whether they have actual or official leadership positions or if they are simply the people others tend to listen to and believe, make false or exaggerated claims of the activities or performance of some system or some opposition leader, people believe them and resist or defy. What's bad becomes good. What's good becomes bad.
I even saw this in Toyota for a short period of time after the first US president was named at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. He happened to take the job at the same time the company decided to make changes to the suggestion system that restricted what ideas would be eligible for consideration and reward compensation.
Team members associated that change with the new President, and I was even asked by a friend who worked there if I thought the new president was trying to bring the United Auto Workers into the plant.
That was a case of unfortunate timing without clear communication about why a change was made. Neither the President nor the managers of the suggestion system were malicious in intent, but the influential voices started rumors that spread quickly and were believable. The result at Toyota wasn’t particularly bad from a performance standpoint that I could tell…They were still producing about 2000 high quality cars a day, but the difference in the way the plant just felt was palpable.
I’ve been in that plant a hundred times. Most of the time, the team members working on the line would take a second and look up at visitors and smile or wave briefly. You could feel positive energy in the building. During that dark time, though, it felt like a pall on the place. When anyone looked up at you, there were hard lines on their faces and that energy had changed.
We’ve seen this same growing split in the culture of our country. I think it started with George W. Bush’s presidency and the stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that prompted our invasion. Then when Obama was elected, we see the partisan shift in several news organizations that slid them decidedly to the left or to the right. And each began coloring the events with that left or right slant. When Trump was elected, it seems we stomped on the gas pedal for radical reporting with audiences observing the exact same events, but coming to two entirely different conclusions.
Now, with the seemingly clear election results being openly contested by the sitting president for the first time in our history, with half of the country supporting him absolutely and the other half defying him absolutely, we find ourselves in that same kind of dark and stressful place that is just made worse by the raging Pandemic.
This kind of defiant culture can’t last long without having serious consequences.
So how would an organization (or a nation) pull itself out of a defiant culture? I’m still working on that.
But I believe that without a completely different leader taking the dominant role in the organization, it will only get worse. But then it gets ugly. That leader has to be remarkably consistent with the truth, and ruthlessly suppress the disinformation from the opposition.
We’ve seen some examples of this in history on both extremes.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, he was immediately, forcefully, branded a tyrant by the opposition. And he was. He had to be to draw the nation out of our most terribly defiant culture ever.
Hitler rose to power by uniting German nationalists against everything else, especially the Jews, by using every lie and exaggeration he could conceive. But he sold it.
The only way out of both of these cases was a brutal war, and of course, the winners write the history.
Can we work together at the grass-roots level to find the common things that bind us together? Can we deliberately ignore news and information from the extreme ends of the political spectrum and not let it inflame us to the point where we want to take up arms?
What we have to do is deliberately step toward compliance, together, and build systems that allow us to continue building toward more engagement. For an organization, that’s not really too difficult. For a nation, that’s a different story.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.