Populism may be defined as the identification and vocalization of popular needs. Do populists fit in organizations? Yes. Of course.
Be clear that populism is not a bad thing, if you “pay attention” to the voices. As a leader, before you can create any plan of action, paying attention requires listening and listening requires using the skill of empathy.
I believe and encourage the point, that we are all leaders. Each and every one of you.
We take responsibility and accountability, at minimum, for ourselves. More broadly, we serve our team members, teams, our organizations, communities and globally. So please wear and bear a leadership weight on your shoulders that best serves.
Empathy requires more from us, individually, than just bearing weight. Empathy asks that we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, hear, feel and relate to the emotion expressed. We can then connect meaningfully to that person in our words, tone and body language. Empathy requires that we change ourselves first in order that we can support or facilitate (whatever is needed) change in others.
In organizations, we may have many populists. The CEO who can read the many threads and weave them together to align people and goals, will see success. Is he or she a successful populist? In a manner of speaking yes.
The senior manager or anyone who senses an unserved need and raises it to enable change is also a populist or maybe he can also be viewed as a “trouble maker” rocking the boat. When is the employee good or the employee bad? In Shakespearean terms, That’s the rub!
Good or bad (absolutist) designations result from judgemental organizations. Organizations having low empathy sewn into their culture tend to forget that there is a learning side, with thanks to Peter Senge, and waste much organizational energy judging. Learning organizations can respond more positively and constructively to populists and enable their thinking to be included and have an effect on the decision-making governance processes. All good for long term organizational sustainability.
Judgemental organizations tend to quash or ignore populists, at their peril, allowing the untended thread to connect itself to other loose threads building into larger future issues. So much for engagement and adoption!
So next time you meet a populist, do your best to breathe, “listen’ to the message without judgement and ask collaboratively how the message can serve the overall organizational good. Worth the dialogue.