Developing The "Both And" Mindset
Clients often share a situation or challenge with me and
as their consultant they ask me to advise them on a course
of action. Often during the conversation, the Client will
identify two distinctly different courses of action - that
may at first seem to be in opposition. The question is basically
formatted as an "either or" question - "Should I do A or B?"
Often, my answer is "yes." After getting a confused look,
I explain that the answer lies not in one or the other of
the alternatives, but in exploring and doing both. This is
what I call "both and" thinking. Collins and Porras in their
book Built to Last call it "avoiding the Tyranny of the OR,
and embracing the Genius of AND."
"Either or" thinking is pervasive in our world. Let's take
the example of the common phrase, "black or white." When we
think of black or white, we often try to balance by looking
for the "shades of gray" - thinking that in balance or compromise
we will find the right solution. This is seldom the most valuable
approach. My suggestion is to consider black and white.
That "either or" solution inevitably leads to suboptimal solutions,
and under satisfying compromises. Balance is not found in
some murky middle ground, but rather by dedicating our focus
to both ends of the spectrum.
Black and white.
We can take this concept beyond the philosophical and find
specific ways to use "both and" thinking in all parts of our
lives. Below is a list of 10 "both and" combinations that
will make you a better leader of yourself and others.
Strengths and weaknesses. What we receive feedback,
we typically focus on our weaknesses and work to improve in
those areas. This is fine, but if all of our effort is focused
here, and none is focused on valuing and strengthening our
strengths, we are not investing our time and effort in the
most effective way. Are there weaknesses to improve? Of course
there are. But think too of your strengths and build those.
Timeless and new. New ideas are seductive, and we must
be mindful of and willing to move forward with new ideas.
But we can't focus on the new without a bedrock of timeless
principles to guide us. History does repeat itself, so when
we find the timeless principles in the new ideas; we will
gain even greater clarity and create greater progress.
Expert and novice. Have a problem to solve? Consider
having an expert help you think it through. Consider also
bringing someone in with no prior knowledge or preconceived
ideas about the situation. Expert and novice. Both bring value
to a problem solving challenge or innovation opportunity.
Inform and listen. Great communicators do more than
inform. They also listen. Great communicators are not great
because they can do one or the other of these exceptionally
well, but because they can do both exceptionally well.
Demanding and supportive. As a leader of ourselves
or others we need to be demanding and tough because clear
expectations are important and motivating. Results are needed.
However, if we drive for the results without supporting people
and their feelings, ultimately people won't reach their true
Goals and serendipity. To succeed at the highest levels
we must have a target in mind, a vision, a goal. The most
successful people have clear goals and continue to listen
for the knock of opportunity. They value the serendipitous
moment and meeting, and recognize that in those moments their
goals might be adjusted reprioritized or otherwise change.
Simply leaving our lives to serendipity will not create the
greatest results. Conversely, remaining it rigidly goal focused,
may preclude us from seeing many great opportunities.
Task and process. The work must be done - the task
is important. However, thinking of the process, the flow,
and how the work is done is equally important. If we solely
focus on getting out the work we'll miss opportunities to
improve the process and make it easier, more productive and
more enjoyable. On the other hand, if we spend all of our
time planning the process, we will never get results. Maintain
both a task and process focus.
Strategy and tactics. We must plan. Strategy is important.
But we also must take action. Tactics are imperative. The
most successful people and leaders value strategy in the context
of actionable tactics that moved them towards those strategic
Customer focus and employee focus. Some organizations
feel that the Customer is always right and all work should
be done in service for the Customer. Others feel that if they
treat their employees right, the Customers will ultimately
be satisfied. These are not diametrically opposed ideas. Clearly,
Customers and employees are the two most valuable assets any
business holds. Focus on them both.
Individual and team. Individual talent, performance
and productivity are critical; however individual success
cannot trump synergistic collaboration. Work on building individual
skills, and empower educate and support teams as well.
I could add to this list, but hopefully you already see the
wisdom of "both and" thinking. Chances are, as you begin to
value and create this mindset for yourself, you will find
more and more of these combinations that you can apply.
The "both and" mindset will help you become more successful
and paradoxically create greater clarity and balance in your
life. Take the time to think about and nurture this mindset
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief
Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (KevinEikenberry.com),
a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report
on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go
or phone (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.
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