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As Steven Spielberg’s "Lincoln" brings audiences into theaters to learn of the 16th president’s astute leadership and President Barack Obama vows to work with opposing lawmakers in his second term, it’s a good time to consider how compromise can be gained in the workplace on a day-to-day basis.
First, it’s not easy. Second, many leaders attempt it and bungle it so badly they forever damage work relationships and hurt the bottom line with their ineptness.
Still, it’s not impossible, and historical figures like President Abraham Lincoln prove it can be done even in the most difficult of circumstances, says John Baldoni, a leadership coach.
When faced with a group of people who disagree with a course of action, leaders can’t immediately dictate "it’s my way or the highway" or they will drive valuable employees away, Baldoni says.
"What you want is a win-win solution. To achieve compromise, the first thing you’ve got to look at is what is our unifying purpose? What is the one thing we all want?"
In Lincoln’s case, it was preserving the union. "We are not enemies, but friends," he said in his first inaugural address in 1861. "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."
In a company today, leaders may be fighting to keep not a country united, but a company. Baldoni says a leader can use the same tactic as Lincoln, pointing out the "greater good" that will be achieved through compromise and teamwork, such as saving jobs.
Still, once that compromise is achieved it’s important not to muck it up by gloating about victory or ignoring a former rival, Baldoni says.
"You’ve got to reach across the aisle to rivals and tell them that you still want them around, you still value them," Baldoni says.
But what about when that rival continues to sow seeds of discontent?
"A leader’s job is to make sure there is alignment and everyone is united in a purpose," Baldoni says. So if a leader finds out someone is going behind their back, then they’ve got to hold them accountable.
Baldoni says that once compromise is reached and a team direction is established, anyone found deviating from that in order to pursue his or her own best interest should be advised to stop such action or face termination by the leader. While that may seem harsh, "a leader’s job is to lead the team," he says, "and you cannot tolerate anything else."
Baldoni says that while the political atmosphere in America today is often divisive, it’s fortunate American workplaces don’t experience such widespread strife and dysfunction.
"In the workplace, you have to live with these people. You have to engage, cooperate and coordinate with them every day to get things done. Compromise in the corporate sector is not perceived as a negative. People don’t like that ‘my way or the highway’ attitude."
In his new book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Any Situation, (Amazon, $19.95), Baldoni offers other leadership tips that can help lead to forming a consensus with the most contentious groups:
How others perceive a leader is critical • The leader’s reputation "is essential to creating trust, and in turn getting people to work together to achieve mutually beneficial aims," he writes.
Learn to listen • "Listening to others has seldom been as important and seldom been as neglected," Baldoni writes.
Be optimistic • "People want to believe in their leaders, if only for the simple fact that it makes life easier. People want to believe what they do matters," he writes. "It falls to the leaders to provide that assurance."
Or, in the words of Lincoln: "Determine the thing that can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way."
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107.
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