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Consider these words from Gary Hamel, ranked as one of the world’s most influential business thinkers by the Wall Street Journal.

“Organizational success in the years ahead will hinge on the ability of employees at all levels to manage seemingly irreconcilable trade-offs – between short-term earnings and long-term growth, competition and collaboration, structure and emergence, discipline and freedom, and individual and team success.”

What do short-term earnings and long-term growth, competition and collaboration, structure and emergence, discipline and freedom, and individual and team success all have in common? They’re polarities.

What’s a polarity? A condition, act, or person that contains seemingly contradictory qualities that are both right and equally necessary for success over the long-term.

Effectively managing a polarity requires top-notch leadership abilities in being able to differentiate between either/or problems to be solved and both/and trade-offs to be perpetually managed. If you’re seeking success over the long-term, polarities must be managed with a both/and approach.

In Built to Last,  James Collins and Jerry Porras phrase it beautifully when they counsel to leaders to “avoid the tyranny of the OR and embrace the genius of the AND.” 

The opposite of an ordinary fact is a lie. But the opposite of one profound truth is complemented and given life by another profound truth. ~Nils Bohr, Nobel Award winning physicist


How effective leaders manage paradox and polarity

Besting those “irreconcilable trade-offs” as Hamel so aptly describes them requires leaders to have mastery of several personal both/and behaviors.

Let’s take a look at several of them.

Effective leaders have both confidence and humility. 

They have sufficient self-confidence to recognize and appreciate their own self-worth, yet manage to balance their faith in themselves with valuing and acknowledging the contributions of others.  

Effective leaders practice both passion and caution. 

They’re filled with purpose as well as the thoughtfulness and awareness to know that others hold a different purpose.  They appreciate that differences aren’t bad or wrong, just different.

Effective leaders know how to both connect and challenge

They with their strengths; understand their weaknesses, and use that wisdom to challenge themselves to fulfill their biggest and best potential. They do the same for those around them.

Effective leaders know there’s both a time to pull and push. 

Sometimes those who are being led need to see the light; other times they need to be the candle.  Effective leaders help and guide them either way.

Effective leaders are good at both inquiry and advocacy. 

They strive first to understand, and only then use their voice to promote, celebrate, and teach others so they can develop their fullest potential.

Effective leaders both dream and do.

They dream their castles in the air, then build them. 

Effective leaders both rejoice and reflect. 

They look inward to understand the why, the why not, and the how to be better. They celebrate often and share the joy, the pain, the silliness, and wonderfulness of it all.

Sending smiles and inspiration to all in learning to master these polarities and in being the best leader you can be!

Image source:  Dreamstime