I recently joined representatives of the Network for Tolerance on a trip to Palestine and Israel to make progress on two of their art projects. The Wiesbaden artist and initiator of the network, Karl-Martin Hartmann, created a symbol for tolerance, the so-called “Stele”.

The six-meter high steel constructions filled with red glass bricks serve as a shining incitement to demonstrate tolerance in our relationships with each other. The trip triggered in my mind a couple of topics that are relevant for leaders; tolerance being the first.

How can tolerance be defined?

The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance issued by UNESCO (1995) provides more insight on the meaning of tolerance. Article 1.4 showcases this:
Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one’s convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one’s own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behavior and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one’s views are not to be imposed on others. http://www.unesco.org/cpp/uk/declarations/tolerance.pdf

Tolerance is required on many different levels: world, continent, country, community, family, teams, couples, and individuals.

What does tolerance mean in the business environment?

Tolerance is an attitude that is consciously chosen. It is the foundation for mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and cohesion. It is also a pre-requisite for creating win-win situations and sustainable success. Tolerance is the first level of positive energy that helps motivate and inspire yourself and others. Through tolerance we are able to appreciate the differences we have with others. A tolerant attitude enables us to be responsible, accountable for our actions and remain in solution-orientation mode.

Tolerance does NOT entail finger pointing, blaming others, ignoring or complaining or uniting in misery. Tolerance requires responsibility, awareness, and self-leadership.

The following Tolerance Scale is based on five different ratings of how people respond to others in terms of their attitudes toward differences. It helps managers and employees explore attitudes towards differences in the workplace and consider how employees respond to others based on these attitudes.


Negative or catabolic energy 1 Repulsion Employees see others as different in a way that is not normal, and not belonging in their workplace. They may be repulsed by their habits, lifestyles, appearance, actions, or beliefs. Working with them causes employees a lot of discomfort even to the point where they feel physically or emotionally ill.
2 Avoidance Employees feel uncomfortable with peers that are different because they are different in a way the employee does not understand or is not familiar with. Employees try to avoid them and do not work well together.
Foundation for mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and cohesion 3 Tolerance Employees don’t appreciate differences, but can work with their peers. Employees here don’t feel completely comfortable with different employees, but believe everyone has the right to be treated respectfully. If they had their choice, however, they would not have them as co-workers.
4 Acceptance A particular difference doesn’t really matter to an employee. Employees are comfortable around their colleagues who are different and value them in their workplace. They listen to them as co-workers and work well together. This is the mindset where you will find most employees.
Positive or anabolic energy 5 Appreciation (Goal) Employees see differences as beneficial and not only have little resistance to employees different from themselves, but actively seek out others in their work to leverage their diversity.


Why is it important as a business leader to exhibit tolerance?

The root causes for interpersonal challenges lie in the duality of life and the human impulse to judge. Kurt Tucholsky defined tolerance as a “suspicion that the other person could be right”. Business leaders must treat the multiple and often contradictory perspectives of a given situation or conflict equally and fairly; each person has their individual realities or perceptions, and everyone feels that theirs is right. Negotiation skills and a focus on the overarching goal or vision are paramount to achieving a satisfactory conclusion for all.

Intolerance will drive groups apart, creating a sense of permanent separation between them. In the corporate world collaboration is key, and a tolerant mindset is the basis to

  • foster connectedness and teamwork
  • develop staff
  • help resolve conflict
  • influence corporate culture that motivates and engages people
  • unleash potential
  • help people give their best and go the extra mile
  • encourage creativity and innovation
  • enhance diversity and inclusion.

Tolerance requires boundaries, for example, when it comes to working towards business goals and achieving the related deliverables. This is a non-negotiable environmental condition that everyone buys into when being hired.

The freedom of the individual ends where the freedom of others begins to be affected. Communication and a liberal or tolerant attitude support positive relationships, harmony, growth and peace.

What can you do as a leader to be a role model for tolerance?

Treat others with respect. Appreciate different working styles and approaches. Always remember that we are human beings, not human doings. Endure ambiguity. Put the urge to judge on hold.
Listen deeply to stakeholders, strictly consider different perspectives, and find out what others really want. Facilitate conflict resolution whenever an opportunity arises. Apply ruthless solution orientation.
Continuously develop people and yourself. Share information and operate in partnership. Everyone is a teacher and student at the same time. Be curious.
Give feedback in a way that acknowledges the person and points out areas for improvement and efficiency. Don’t allow bigoted comments by others, even friends or family members, to go unchallenged.
Know who you are and what you want. Chose your tolerant attitude deliberately. Set and manage your own boundaries. Be intolerant with intolerance.

Mission Accomplished – tolerance is possible!

Through coaching you will be able to assess where you are on the tolerance scale, work on measures that help you to be tolerant or appreciative in a more lighthearted and sustainable way. You will also learn some tools and techniques that you can apply with your leadership team and direct reports.

Curious to find out more? Contact me to find out if coaching is right for you.