Our past experiences and beliefs influence the way that we see the world. To be a good leader, or even an informed citizen, it is important to be able to recognize where our own beliefs come from as well as the origins of the beliefs of others. Too often, beliefs are characterized in terms of being good or bad. In reality, it is almost never that simple.
Our textbook, Leadership; Theory and Practice, by Peter Northouse, talks about the importance of understanding the basis of beliefs in the section on the psychodynamic approach to leadership. As stated in the first of the four basic premises of the clinical paradigm for psychodynamic analysis, “there is a rationale behind every human act” (Northouse, 2016, p. 296). Where that rationale comes from is often more complicated than what it seems on the surface. According to the psychodynamic approach, all people have past experiences that form the undercurrents of motivations and desires that drive their actions (Northouse, 2016). For a leader to be effective, they need to attempt to understand those undercurrents and reasons in themselves and their subordinates (Northouse, 2016).
This is a skill that expands beyond direct organizational leadership into the world today. America is very polarized politically right now and people have very strong feelings on one side or the other. It makes sense and is natural that this is the case, as the issues being debated and acted on are very important to a lot of people. However, to understand the beliefs of others, we have to understand the undercurrent of motives and desires that drive their behavior (Ted, 2008). In a Ted Talk by Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at NYU, he describes what his research has determined to be the 5 moral foundations of humanity. His research has determined these 5 factors (Ted, 2008):
Liberals and conservatives value these different morals differently (Ted, 2008). However, in both cases, these morals drive their behavior and beliefs. In a gross oversimplification of his research, he has determined that liberals and conservatives both have something to contribute to politics, as they represent a balance between the forces of change and stability (Ted, 2008).
Recognizing that people with different beliefs from us have something to contribute doesn’t come naturally to us. Our minds were designed by evolution to unite us in teams, divide and isolate us against other teams and blind us to the truth (Ted, 2008). These factors made groups stronger and, due to this, more likely to survive. However, in leadership as well as in social situations, we need to fight these urges and make an effort to understand each other. Only after one makes an effort to understand the basis of other’s beliefs will they be able to be an effective leader or a well-rounded public citizen.
“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend.” – Robert A. Heinlein
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership; Theory and Practice. Sage Publications.
TED. (2008, September 18). Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs41JrnGaxc