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Yes, Polarity Thinking is Crucial for Leaders!

Corwin, November 2013
Corwin, November 2013

In its most recent e-letter, the Center for Creative Leadership listed leveraging polarities as the second-most important strategy for leaders to master, right after strategic learning. I couldn’t agree more–my next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, is all about using polarity thinking in conversations about education reform.

What is polarity thinking? The term, coined by Barry Johnson, describes situations where there is truth and wisdom on more than one side of an issue–each side is incomplete without the wisdom and input of the other. Think of how often we fight about the “right” way to organize, when in fact we need some of both. It isn’t either/or but both/and for things such as

  • Top-down AND Bottom-up Leadership
  • Individual AND Team
  • Centralization AND Decentralization
  • Loose AND Tight Leadership
  • Continuity AND Change

When we get entrenched on one side or the other, both sides lose, don’t they? For example, we over-focus on rewarding individuals to the neglect of teams and, suddenly, no one is collaborating. So we swing toward teamwork and, suddenly, individuals aren’t as motivated to go beyond assigned roles and goals. As the Center for Creative Leadership puts it, “To be successful in today’s environment, leaders must leverage the value of each, rather than viewing them as “either/or.”

I couldn’t agree more!

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Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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