Leaders are constantly bumping into a minefield of contradictions. For every year-end review that tells you to be warm and connect with your people, there’s another that says to be competent and know your industry. For every leadership book that advises confidence is key, there’s a podcast that says vulnerability is crucial. For every expert that urges you to be positive, enthusiastic, and optimistic about the organization’s agenda, you will find another who says you should be transparent about the challenge ahead.
The most effective leaders develop the capacity to hold the tension of Both/And. They discover an expanded way of seeing and being that taps into the value of both this and that. They learn to be warm and connect while being competent in what they know, they show up with confidence while also allowing people to see them, they are optimistic about where they are headed and grounded in the reality of where they are. The KPI is a practical and transformational tool that helps individuals and teams expand their impact by increasing their capacity to lead from a Both/And perspective.
See and Make Sense of Your Reality
Polarities are one way to honor the complexity of leadership and uncover where conflicts surface. The KPI helps leaders see and make sense of fundamental paradoxes that persist over time.
“Best of This and That”This leader could be described as someone who moves tasks along and brings others along in their decisions without being seen as a “taskmaster” or “people pleaser.” They likely value accomplishment and connection, which contributes to their ability to deliver results as well as engage their people.
“Either This or That”This leader might view themselves as “the reliable one” and described as a leader who takes ownership, but may not be quick to also show understanding when someone doesn’t live up to their expectations. They may also be seen as overly critical and could feel burdened by having to do it all. It is likely this leader holds a strong value for commitment, positively contributing to their ability to make an impact. They might also fear being seen as soft or weak, leaving them with a desire for a fuller sense of inner peace.
“Hidden Preference”A leader who could be described as someone who stretches people to accomplish bigger and better things and provides the encouragement needed to take risks. Under stress or pressure, they are likely to prefer “the push” and might be at risk for pushing too hard, too far, or too fast. Their value of challenge contributes to their ability to provide inspiration and if taken too far could get in their way of creating the space and support for people to grow.
“Mind altering”, “Really great way to see what is going on inside and outside yourself” “To see how your fears of the overuses of your less preferred pole drive your mindsets and behaviors.” “Polarity thinking is amazing”.Program Participant
Step out of Suffering and into Success
When we learn how to navigate polarities, success follows. When we fail to notice polarities or unconsciously mistake them for a problem to solve, suffering is likely.
When groups encounter a polarity and don’t have a way to make sense of it or understand it as an interdependent pair, they experience a series of stages called Suffering Paradox.
Giving preference to one pole over the other
Wedding oneself to a pole (at all costs)
Creating “the Other” to personify the tension
PROTECTING“things [can] get personal and battle lines [can] get drawn in the sand”
JUDGING“make one side of the argument the good guys and the other side the bad guys.”
PROVING“everybody tries to force their opinions and thoughts and beliefs about the situation on others”
ASSUMING“you look and say, ‘yep, I knew you were gonna do that’”
Problem solving from an either-or mindset
- Failure – “you can’t succeed if you can’t get everyone on board”
- Stuck/Frozen – “everything just grinds to a halt”
- Narrow/Poor Decisions – “we’d make decisions with only half of the information on the table”
- Apathy – “People just check out – it’s exhausting”
- Negativity/Cynicism – “people get so negative…it’s not fun”
- Despair – “it seems like there’s no way out…it’s depressing”
- Misunderstanding – “everyone is so sure they’re right, they don’t even try to understand a different point of view”
- Not Listening – “no one listens…they just want to prove their point”
- Blinders – “we were completely blind to the downsides of our pole”
- Resistance/Sabotage – “you just want to see them fail”
- Conflict – “only one pole can win, so people will put up a fight”
- Anger/Resentment – “it can get really ugly and hostile”
When a group can see the polarity and has a way to make sense of it, the tension in the dynamic can turn into a creative force rather than a destructive one – experiencing a series of stages called Navigating Paradox.
Using a sensemaking tool to see, discuss, and embody
Seeing and sharing a fuller picture of the past, present, and future
APPRECIATING POLARITIES“[it was] a life-changing moment”
“[it makes you] see the world differently”
EXPLAINING THE PRESENT“when it clicked, I was like, Wow! Wow! [pause, then quieter] Wow. It was like, ‘oh, my God, that’s amazing’ – it really was. I mean, it felt, it just explained so much and helped us see it so differently.”
ILLUMINATING THE PAST“pointed and said, ‘Look! We were way over here which is why we ended up wanting the change…it’s not because we didn’t know what we were doing…see, we ain’t crazy!”
REVEALING THE FUTURE“you can see into the future to see what’s going to happen. Things are Ok now, but we’ll end up [in those downsides] if we don’t watch it”
“the light bulb goes off and [they are] like, I get it…that’s why we can’t reorganize because we’ll just end up over there”
REFRAMING THE PROBLEM“[you start to see that we] will not be able to get rid of this thing”
“it was such a relief to know that we don’t have to solve this, we just have to stay on top of it”
Understanding Self, Other, and We
Problem Solving from a mindset that assumes both are needed for success
- Action – “you can create actions that people actually get behind”
- Movement – “been stuck so long, felt great to get moving”
- Informed Decisions– “not just reacting…taking more into account”
- Excitement – “the talking speeds up, people get excited”
- Creativity – “actions and flags become a really creative process”
- Hope – “OK, so we can actually do something about this”
- Understanding – “finally having a decent conversation”
- Listening – “the point actually gets across…they heard [the message]”
- Open – “people give more space for views to get out in the open”
- Support – “know I need them to do it if I’m going to [be successful]”
- Synergy – “we were all going in the same direction, was actually fun”
- Trust/Respect – “you can understand their actions and motivations better”
More effective leaders. More cohesive teams. More purposefully, productive organizations.
Both/And leaders make more informed decisions, develop greater trust and respect in relationships, build more engaged teams with higher morale, and drive better results. They also have the capacity to embrace ambiguity, thrive in complexity, and adapt to the constantly changing demands of the business.
Organizations that develop Both/And leaders are more willing to experiment and fail, share critical feedback to enable learning and ongoing adjustments, and remain more relevant over the long term.
Curious to Learn More?
We’d love to connect with you to learn more about your needs and explore how the KPI could help.