Jakarta, 4 September 2019 — Triggered by someone else’s view? It might be time to widen your worldview.
Looking back over the past couple of years, it seems to me that the term ‘worldview’ appears more often in the media than before and upon double-clicking this, three voices caught my attention.
First, there are the journalists reporting how narrow worldviews, often ascribed to the incumbent US president and other ‘populist’ politicians, are making it more difficult to expand the world economy and tackle pressing problems like growing inequality, eroding democracy, and increasing threats to sustainability.
Second, there are the narrow worldviews espoused by conservative religious groups for which a simple online search will bring up many examples of believers finding comfort in their narrow confines.
Third, and often in contrast with the first two, there is the growing chorus of Millennials and Gen Zers, many of whom embrace a wider worldview and put great value in collaboration to restore and build a more sustainable and just world.
Considering the first two voices helps to understand why many online communities include in their house rules an encouragement to refrain from discussing politics and religion. These are two areas of life where narrow, exclusive, worldviews bring a high risk of clashes that will undermine collaboration and teamwork.
In my own experience, which I understood better in hindsight with the help of studying developmental psychology, I traversed several worldviews in my life so far, experiencing how the narrower ones that initially gave me a sense of safety and security, then started to feel too narrow for me as I kept growing in life, like clothes that I had outgrown. The transitions to these wider worldviews were often triggered by a specific event.
As I continued growing into more expansive worldviews, I found that I got better at spotting and acknowledging the different worldviews that would show up in discussions at work and in life, and I gradually learned to appreciate them without judgment on the views and, more importantly, the people expressing them.
I wrote about this process, and the fragility of pursuing such growth on a collective scale in society, in The Fragile Vase.
Why are worldviews so important to people?
According to Clare Graves, a professor in psychology, adult human beings successively embrace and reject a number of worldviews in order to best cope with the life conditions that they find ourselves in.
If all goes well in our personal development as adults, we will continue to embrace more expansive wider worldviews as we learn to understand more and cope better with life’s complexity, and as long as we are not experiencing serious threats that trigger us to retreat into the relative security of a narrower view.
How does this matter to leaders in the 21st century, where leading is about influencing positive change in yourself, your workplace, and in your community and wider world?
If you’re holding on to rather exclusive views that come with inhabiting a narrower worldview, your leadership will likely be most effective with people who find security in the same worldview: those who see the world, and themselves, like you do.
Leading with Worldviews
If, on the other hand, you want to influence positive change on a bigger scale, like Nelson Mandela did when he was released from jail after 27 years, then you need to start by carefully examining your own worldview and the worldviews of people around you. And you will need to acquire the skills to do just that.
Mandela’s passion and agenda became to bring people from all the (fighting) factions of his country together to build a new South Africa, as a rainbow nation of many colors.
The only way to influence and get people onboard with his agenda was to connect with their heart, Mandela said, and that meant, to develop the skills to talk to them in ‘their language.’ This was not easy, and he worked on his influencing skills for several years.
As Mandela demonstrated, influencing others by learning to ’speak their language’ can be learned, and to do so, he mastered the languages of each of the seven worldviews that Professor Clare Graves had earlier discovered through his research, both the more narrow and the more expansive worldviews.
Many of the leaders I work with today are using the Work In All Colors method that is based on the body of knowledge that Clare Graves discovered and Nelson Mandela studied and mastered in his leadership. What they found out about speaking the language of your audience (connecting with their worldview) is that it matters much more to do right than to be right.
In our community of leaders, we are exploring this month why worldviews are important and how to use a set of tools to recognize and work with diverse worldviews, as we set out to influence positive changes through our workplace conversations.
If you identify with being a leader who wants to influence a positive change in your workplace, and are open to start learning and experimenting together with three fellow leaders, our Grow3Leaders community might be a good fit for you too. Check it out here.
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