This is an important question if HR wants to develop future
leaders. There are inevitably times when the either/or mindset
won’t be nuanced enough to handle all the complexities in life. This
is especially true when it comes to conflicting values that circulate
workplaces, such as:
■■ How to determine when to persevere and when to quit? When
to “try, try again,” or stop “beating a dead horse.”
■■ How to shape a work ethic? Is it “work to live, not live to work,”
or “good things come to those who hustle?”
■■ How to create productive workspaces? Is it “eye on the prize,” for
a salary, position or product object, or is it “put people first,” and
ensure everyone always feels valued and included in the journey?
What if there was a way to say “yes” to both options? A way to
achieve balance rather than getting trapped in advice that demands
Dr. Barry Johnson’s work on the power of managing polarities
teaches that it’s possible to leverage paradoxes, dilemmas and
conflicting values. What’s more, Jim Collins’ research proves that
leaders who move from good to great do not accept “The Tyranny
of the or,” but instead embrace “The Genius of the and.”
HOW LANGUAGE CHANGES IN
THESE THINKING MODELS
In the pursuit of becoming a thriving leader, a respected teammate,
a trusted friend or a caring parent, it’s life-changing to embrace a
“both/and” space rather than becoming stuck with only an “either/
or” mentality. What does it look like to embrace the both/and
mindset? It means getting comfortable with healthy tension.
The limitations of the either/or mentality become especially
evident when facing tensions in life like dealing with conflicting
viewpoints, situations with multiple perspectives or stressful decisions.
The reality is, workplaces can be complex environments to
navigate filled with diverse perspectives, so a model that is strong
enough to manage healthy tensions is needed, such as:
■■ Being task focused and relationship oriented.
■■ Providing critical analysis and providing encouragement.
■■ Giving freedom and expecting accountability.
■■ Being truthful and candid and being tactful and diplomatic.
■■ Preserving stability and tradition and stimulating innovation
■■ Thriving at work and thriving at home.
Like so many situations in life, these tensions are not a matter
of right and wrong, they are a matter of right and right. Managing
healthy tensions by saying “and” instead of “but” can certainly lead
to more confrontation and discomfort, but it’s the kind of conflict
that results in better and more informed decisions, and the kind of
discomfort that results in growth.
How about your organization? Is leadership stuck? Are they
using an either/or mindset to deal with complex leadership issues
that require more than a simple right or wrong approach? Are they
known for saying the word “but” more than the word “and?” Are
diverse points of view and healthy conflict safe and celebrated in
The great news is that both/and leadership can be learned and
every step taken in this direction is a step toward leadership development,
team effectiveness and organizational success. n
Tim Arnold is the president of Leaders for Leaders and author of
The Power of Healthy Tension.
Workplaces can be complex environments filled with diverse
perspectives. The both/and model is strong enough to manage
healthy tensions such as being task focused and
THE LIMITATIONS OF THE
EITHER/OR MENTALITY BECOME
ESPECIALLY EVIDENT WHEN
FACING TENSIONS IN LIFE LIKE
DEALING WITH CONFLICTING
WITH MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES
OR STRESSFUL DECISIONS.
36 ❚ APRIL 2019 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL