Embracing the power of “and both”

A common thread I am seeing across the changemakers is how to navigate what seems contradictory. Clarity & Uncertainty. Individual & Collective. Profit & Purpose. Planning & Emergence. Freedom & Responsibility. 

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

Perhaps this extraordinary year, for all it’s challenges is showing us the importance, and our ability, for a different perspective – to hold what seems opposing. To explore the nuances. And find joy in the discomfort.

As I make the final edits of this article, I am listening to the latest Dare to Lead podcast, where Brene Brown starts her interview with Barack Obama by talking about how

“those who can hold the discomfort of paradox are truly the most transformative leaders among us.”

It feels like a sign; like this is something we need to be talking about.

Yes, I’m an optimist in a polarised world. And I’m self-aware enough to realise that it’s in my nature to see the positives emerging from a challenging year.  From the “kind & strong” leadership advocated by Jacinda Arden, to combining expertise alongside learning and adaptation.  I can see too that we’re reconnecting with what’s good for society and the planet, as well as what’s good for us individually, and I feel encouraged.

Of course, opposed debate sustains the media, and fear can drive us to the comfort of wrong and right answers. Yet we know it is the nuances that provide the golden nuggets for developing understanding and solutions, and we need to be comfortable holding both – the duality of leadership. Providing clarity alongside uncertainty. Balancing the needs and aspirations of individuals with those of the collective. Managing the interplay of human and business dynamics.

And these times are causing us to look afresh, to be curious, to try things differently. And it starts with ourselves. With myself. 

From managing tensions

I’ve long talked about how life isn’t about black or white but navigating the grey. As a COO in the For Good sector, I am well aware of the challenges of moving organisations forward in the wake of different needs, opinions and tensions: of finding the balance between money and mission; short term needs and sustainability; bold leadership and stakeholder engagement.

But coming across the work of Alan Watts helped me realise that it’s actually about being comfortable with opposites. He compares our striving to balance opposing forces to antagonistic muscles fighting each other to achieve stillness, but only resulting in tension. 

So rather than trying to achieve balance, I’ve learned to revel in the healthy expression of both – both in life and at work. Pushing both pedals.

To embracing both

And this year, I’ve noticed a similar thread at work – the challenge of managing tensions was, well, if not being exacerbated, brought into focus by the pandemic.

I saw the CEO wanting to empower their remote team, saying the right things but trying to control from afar. The decisive leader whose reflective style was in paralysis without their usual “certainty” of their choice. The founder encouraging freedom and innovation within their team but burning through their limited resources. The social entrepreneur striving to be both self-sustaining and accessible alongside an increasing need for their services from people unable to afford them.

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
– Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winning physicist

It all got me thinking as to how best to help leaders in practical ways. Supporting a new generation of leaders in embracing the &leadership mindset; who are committed to their own journey of self-development, alongside one of organisational evolution. Who aren’t scared of this double transformation, but see them as necessary to and feeding each other.

Fortunately, it seems more of a fast track to emerging models than building something new. With leaders increasingly reaching out for coaching to help them along these parallel journeys, accompanying frameworks and structures can also help in holding the big picture, taking the strain. Whether the Minimum Viable Ecosystem providing clarity of direction and priorities, the Honeycomb Framework for effective remote teams, and the Integrated Thinking and Reporting of Impact, People & Money, we will be continuing to discuss, explore and share practical ways to help navigate the range of polarities we face.

If you are interested to know more, perhaps co-creating a case study, or keeping up to date with insights, learnings and tools, you can register for our newsletter or email info@wingsandroots.net and let’s have a chat.

#andleadership  #wingsandroots #emergence

“Wisdom is being at peace with life’s contradictions”
– Fons Trompenaars