Congressional approval ratings have hit a new low with intractable parties at both ends of the spectrum and a chasm between. This is an excellent lesson in the need for leadership to build bonds, or what we call cohesion in the world of psychology.
Let’s reflect for a moment when an even greater fissure ran through our country, literally, during the American Civil war from 1861 to 1865. After six states joined in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America and secede from the Union, President Abraham Lincoln was forced to declare war in an attempt to reunite the country. In addition, Lincoln’s presidential campaign was a struggle, winning the Republican nomination against bitter rivals William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates.
President Lincoln needed to mend rifts between the Union and Confederacy states, between slaveholders and those against slavery, and between rivals in his own party who wanted him to take a tougher stand for or against slavery. With deft political skill Lincoln brought the rivals Seward, Chase, and Bates as well as three former Democrats into his inner circle, won their allegiance and harnessed their talents to help reunite the country. A moderate, Lincoln took flak from all sides, yet succeeded in gaining popular support for his moderate stances and intransigent position against slavery.
Whether healing rifts of national proportions or those within your local team the concepts are the same. The psychology research on cohesion, the ability for individual team members to work harmoniously toward the same goal (task cohesion) and build social bonds (social cohesion) shows a positive correlation with performance.
So think about how well the individuals on your team are working toward their task and how well they truly enjoy being together. If close working relationships are lacking it’s time to earn your keep. Sit down with your perceived enemies and work to turn them into allies. Focus all individuals on your team to work productively on the important tasks and engage everyone in building social bonds.
• Engage opposing individuals to align toward a unified goal
• Look for shared social ground to build bonds
• Take a stand toward a common purpose, with sensitivity to all parties, and work to resolve differences
Keywords: leadership, cohesion, bond, team, Abraham Lincoln, Congress
• Carless, S. A., & De, P., C. (2000). The measurement of cohesion in work teams. Small Group Research, 31(1), 71-88.
• Chang, A., & Bordia, P. (2001). A multidimensional approach to the group cohesion-group performance relationship. Small Group Research, 32(4), 379-405.
• Goodwin, D. K. (2005). Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster.
• Griffith, T., Ketcham, H., & Roe, M. (2009). Abraham Lincoln: Life, speeches and letters. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.
• Hackman, J. R. (1990). Groups that work (and those that don’t): Creating conditions for effective teamwork. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.