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“When faced with problems, we are conditioned to look at possible solutions as either/or. Solutions are either right or wrong,” says Tim Arnold. “But the reality is that there can be many right answers to a situation, including some of the most significant problems we need to solve."
Tim is a two-time guest on Unleashed, and we were pleased and excited to welcome him in person as one of our keynote speakers at the Business Execution Summit (BEx) 2022. He engaged over 300 attendees by teaching us how to rethink and reframe the way we approach leadership.
Leading with AND
Leaders have high expectations. They are expected to be decisive, to move things forward, and to drive results. But leaders can become bitter or burned out if they try to do this with an either/or approach.
That’s not to say we should never use right/wrong or either/or thinking. For instance, doing something illegal to advance the results of your company is unquestionably wrong (for most people). Through conditioning, we tend to be more comfortable with these situations. It’s the more subtle and contentious questions and problems that most leaders are less skilled with.
The magic to Leading with AND is to first understand that there are several tensions that will exist in any organization. These are typically trade offs and we need to recognize that going all in on one polarity will drive poor outcomes. Examples include the tension between cost and quality, being optimistic while realistic, and being confident while remaining humble.
To be successful leaders must hold and balance these conflicting tensions. They need to recognise if they tilt too far one way or another, either personally or organizationally, they won’t optimize results. Like a tight-rope walker, leaders must continually adjust based on the circumstances to centered and moving forward.
Expectations and Grace
One of the Six Unavoidable Leadership Tensions that seemed most relevant to the attendees at BEx was the tension between having expectations while extended grace in relation to employees. We must maintain a high bar with our people, but at the same time be kind and human with them. Too much on the expectation side and we lose personal connection, treat them as automatons, and push them to their breaking point. Too much grace and we become friends with our people, sometimes therapists, and the work doesn’t get done.
The balance of both high expectation and high grace is what Tim calls Supportive and Striving. It involves unleashing people’s potential by setting ambitious goals while supporting them through skills development, coaching, and mentoring.
“The transformational skill of leadership is to hold opposites in tension… It makes us better leaders, better partners, and even better parents.”
To achieve Supportive and Striving, leaders must start with authentic curiosity. We must assume we are always missing something, be open, inquisitive, and good listeners with our employees. Of course, this involves taking the time to invest in the relationships.
Unleashing the Potential of Your Organization
As a leader, you need to embrace and understand conflicting tensions in yourself, your relationships, and your company. In doing so you can begin to optimize these to drive better performance and outcomes.
If you’d like to learn more about how to build stronger leaders and a high performing organization, or other ways you can take the simpler path to creating a great business, connect with us.