Ok, so the Miss America Pageant may not seem like the most likely laboratory for leadership learning, but the current brou-ha-ha over the status of Carrie Prejean and her status as Miss California is a perfect storm for understanding how groups and teams melt down.
So, what’s going on here? Should a pageant contestant be judged on her actual point of view when asked a personal question, or her ability to take a position and defend it with intelligence and grace? How about judges who are willing to let his biases blatantly change the outcome of the contest?
And now that she is a target, we have hoards of people looking for anything that they can find to smear her reputation, including pictures which test the interpretation of her honesty in filling out the entry forms. Which of course brings another set of hoards to her rescue.
Aside from appreciating the swimsuit competition (not PC I know- but honest) I do not care at all about the event. But what we have here is a case of what I call the Vampire Syndrome.
The folklore and movie myth about vampires goes further than bloodsucking, crosses and garlic. One of the tests was that a vampire would not be reflected in a mirror. And in fact, none of the people in this debate seem to be able to see themselves. Consider this:
What do you suppose the Miss America judges would have to say about an evangelical Christian circuit court judge who used the power of the bench to enforce his own point of view? Outrage? You bet. So why can they not see that they have done the same thing?
How about the conservatives who are willing to look the other way to allow Ms. Prejean to keep her crown as Miss California despite the pictures which show that she was less than honest in her application. Would they do the same for a gay couple who wanted to marry? Not likely.
One of the behavioral norms I have learned to trust over the years is that the stronger my reaction, especially a negative one, the more likely it is that I am a vampire, and unable to see my own reflection.
Now, think about the last major debate or argument in your management committee, board meeting, project meeting. Meetings are great places for conflict and debate, but when they get out of hand, you can bet that the vampire process is at work. Here are a few practical steps to drive a figurative stake through the heart of this challenge:
- Oxygen- the old adage about count to ten is not just an old tale. Oxygen is our friend when we are looking for balance. A few deep breaths or a break to get outside for 5 minutes is a great start.
- Decouple “understand” from “agree”. Find a way for everyone in the room to strive to understand that another view is not just possible, but potentially valuable before beginning the debate again. Understanding does not require agreement, but it does encourage a more reasonable form of debate.
- Ask everyone involved to take 10 seconds and imagine how they would feel if the decision went their way and proved to be wrong or problematic. If I have bullied the room into my point of view, I am going to feel pretty sheepish if it goes in the ditch.
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