It's often said that the past year has condensed decades' worth of change into a matter of months. Shifts to remote work and online everything zoomed ahead, while the stark inequalities of the pandemic swelled growing calls for social justice. But while Covid may be pushing the accelerator pedal on change, there are plenty of scared people out there desperately pumping the brakes. How should you deal with them?
There are few better guides to help you answer this question than the late, great legal icon known as the Notorious RBG, argue a pair of business school professors and a founder in a recent piece for Insead Knowledge. The trio of experts dig into the career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from her early years as an advocate for gender equality to her time on the Supreme Court, and extract lessons for leaders of all stripes who want to drive change but face stubborn resistance.
The detailed article offers examples of how to put each principle into practice in the business world, but here in brief are the key takeaways:
1. Small steps can lead to radical change.
When a situation feels unjust or the status quo obviously subpar, it's natural to be impatient for change. But pushing too hard too soon often ends with you just running headlong into a wall of resistance. It's OK to have a radical long-term vision and still understand that the fastest way to get there is step by step. RBG certainly did.
"After founding the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ginsburg personally chose six gender discrimination cases to argue before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1979. Rather than seeking one sweeping landmark decision, she methodically sought to shift the views of the members of the highest court in the United States, breaking down the gender equality challenge into specific discriminatory statutes, choosing plaintiffs carefully, and using each case to create a precedent," explain the authors.
2. Pitch your argument to your audience.
Similarly, when you're burning with righteous indignation or fired up about your vision for the future, making concessions to those you feel are on the wrong side of history can feel like giving up essential rhetorical ground. But RGB understood you're not conceding anything when you tailor your message to your audience. You're just improving your chances of actually making the world a better place.
In four of the six cases referenced above, Ginsburg actually represented men who were being discriminated against because of unfair rules or legislation (for example, widowers who were entitled to fewer benefits that a similarly positioned widow would have been). The trio of experts explain this was a smart opening move given that Ginsburg was arguing before an all-male Supreme Court.
"By strategically broadening her advocacy to seek equality for both sexes, Ginsburg promoted understanding of the collective benefits of equality and the broader harm of gender discrimination," they note.
3. Disagree without being disagreeable.
It might seem strange in our age of cancel culture, but RBG believed you could not only take your opponents' views into account when shaping your arguments, you could even like them as people. Ginsburg was famously friendly with her archconservative colleague and fellow opera buff Antonin Scalia.
While there are limits to this principle (no one should be asked to be chummy with those who dehumanize them), the authors suggest that in many instances leaders should "separate the individual from the ideology." If you identify your common interests and values, working together to find solutions to the things you don't agree on will become much easier.
Want to learn more? Check out the complete article here.