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One of the biggest challenges I currently see with leaders is the need to provide clarity and direction AND engage teams in ways that foster a culture of ownership and empowerment.
Holding this polarity of Direct AND Empower has deep roots in our identity and often reveals itself in a Leadership Circle Profile.
A polarity is a paradoxical situation in which two interdependent and seemingly contradictory states must be maintained for success over time.
With many polarities, we have a conscious or unconscious preference for one pole or the other. "Change AND Continuity" is a good personal example.
I have a strong preference for Change. That's not bad. It's just how I roll. I see all the wonderful benefits of change - innovation, novelty, fun, engagement, challenge, and new horizons. Road trip to someplace new? Count me in. Ditch everything and move to a new country? Sure, sounds fun. Again, nothing wrong with having a preference - most of us do.
The trouble starts when my preference has me; I don't have it. I see all the benefits of Change to the point of ignoring the downsides of overdoing it (which I'm prone to do). In addition, I begin to view the other pole as something to avoid. I fail to see the many benefits of Continuity (stable, dependable, grounded, consistent improvement) and only focus on the possible overuses (boring, overly predictable, stuck in the past).
My identity starts to wrap around this preference to the extent that anything that starts to feel like Continuity is something I tell myself I'm not.
The polarity Direct AND Empower works in much the same way. The profile below is from a leader who has a strong preference for Direct. His team and the organization view him as someone who gets things done and is always willing to make bold, courageous choices. They respect and value his clarity, commitment, and guidance.
But he was blind to the fact that this gift of providing needed direction often overextended into a liability. His identity was built around providing clarity, certainty, and strategy. To him, anything that required giving up control and empowering others could quickly lead to confusion, misalignment, and chaos. His preference had him!
Whichever preference you have in a polarity, the first step is recognizing how that preference shapes the story you tell yourself about each pole - and about yourself. Do you overestimate the upside of your preferred pole? Do you associate the other pole with only its overuses? What new possibilities would a Both/And approach create?
If you want to dig into the topic of how polarities shape personal and organizational effectiveness, I strongly recommend the book "Navigating Polarities - using Both/And Thinking to Lead Transformation" by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis.
What polarity do you find most challenging to navigate?
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