Leadership in Crisis: Finding Common Ground

By Deke Copenhaver
leadership

I’ve often observed that our society is not as hopelessly divided as we are led to believe by many politicians and the mainstream media. Most people I know can agree on the fact that they’d like to live in clean, safe communities where they have access to jobs, good educational opportunities for their children, and quality healthcare. How to provide these things is open to debate but building consensus around the fact that most people can agree that these are important issues is a good place to begin to find common ground, and solve our current leadership crisis.

Since the pandemic set in, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with leaders from all walks of life nationally and internationally. The vast majority of these individuals—spanning generations, nations, and professions—agree that part of good leadership is making people feel safe and secure while providing an openness allowing all voices to be heard. They also agree it’s about building bonds of trust with those who you serve while uniting them around a common vision.

As a former politician I’m somewhat frustrated, yet not surprised, with the opportunity many of our political leaders seem to be squandering to unite the people they serve rather than further dividing them. We, as a society, have never had a more opportune moment to come together given our shared experience of dealing with a worldwide pandemic.

Although our world has been impacted in different ways, we are all bound by our humanity in the fact that we have all been touched in some way through a common enemy in the coronavirus. If ever there has been a time for our global community to rally around a common cause, it is now, amid a global pandemic. However, for this rally to happen we must have trusted leadership initiating it. This provides a major challenge when one considers the findings of the 2021 Edleman Trust Barometer. This year’s barometer, an international study focusing on the principles of trust in business, government, media, and NGOs, “reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world”.

Social media has contributed to the appearance of our nation and our world being more divided by silos and echo chambers which can be difficult to overcome. In a recent NBC News survey, 64-percent of Americans said they believe social media does more to divide us than to unite us. By contrast, only twenty-seven percent of those surveyed believe social media platforms contribute to uniting our nation.  In what the Edleman Trust Barometer has deemed the “global infodemic” this year’s barometer shows that trust in all news sources has reached record lows with social media (35-percent) and owned media (41-percent) the least trusted. At 53-percent, the mainstream media had the largest drop in trust at eight points.

I’ve always found that when trust is breached in any environment by any individual or institution it is extremely hard to rebuild. So how do we begin again and start to mend the frayed edges of our society fractured by mistrust? My answer to this is to use every platform technology provides us to build a stronger global community at every level beginning in the places we live and sharing lessons learned with each other. My conversations with leaders around the planet about their efforts to have a positive impact, both globally and locally, have inspired me and given me hope that change is possible in the world. As leaders, we simply need to join together and make it happen.

To a large degree, politics and the mainstream media are divisive by nature and will remain so for the foreseeable future as division can be used to maintain power and market share. However, we still have leaders in the past and present who can provide a map forward towards building a better future for our world by seeking to pursue consensus building through a focus on servant leadership. They may not garner headlines as much as political bloodletting or sensationalistic scenarios, but their trusted voices are out there, and they need to be heard to combat our constant onslaught of misinformation.

In the end, it is up to all of us to choose our own fate: do we follow leaders in all sectors who choose to focus on dividing us or those who seek to unite us around common causes? My choice is now, and will always be, the latter. With this in mind, I have deliberately chosen to use every platform I’m given to build bridges of trust while bringing people together on common ground. Having always believed in the power of community building I firmly believe positive change is coming and I’m ready to embrace it and be a part of it.