Time for Both/And


One recent Saturday afternoon I was walking in a park near my home at the same time as what appeared to be a young girl’s high school sports celebration was taking place. The crowd was within seeing and hearing distance for about a half-mile of my walk.

I was aware of a number of different feelings as I observed this event. If I were to label the thinking and feeling with just a few words that accurately reflected my state of mind and body, they would be gratitude, selfishness, and judgment. I found myself feeling both grateful and somewhat selfish that neither one of my two children was graduating from high school or college during 2020. I felt good and bad that they both were able to fully experience the culmination of their high school careers, both academically and athletically, and that there was no COVID-19 to take them away from proms, balls, sporting events, and banquets or the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to know and appreciate associated with graduation.

Then my judgment was stirred up when I noticed that a number of people at the ceremony were not socially distancing or wearing masks. It was not everyone, but it was enough of the participants to be concerning.

Finally, I was awash with the feeling of empathy. I softened my judgment, at least temporarily, by putting myself in the shoes of the parents and athletes, and realizing how devastating it would have been to miss my kids’ big moments during their senior years. This led me to absolutely see the need for and the benefit of having the event. In fact, I went so far in my self-talk as to suggest that if this had affected one of my children, I would have been leading the charge to organize it.

The interest in having the celebration and bringing people together was understandable, AND conducting the event safely with the proper safety protocols of spacing and the wearing of masks was also important.

COVID-19 sets up the need for having a both/and mindset, or integral mind. This allows us the ability — regardless of where we find ourselves on this and any other challenging and complex issue — to hold two contradictory things at once without feeling the need to pick one or the other. This combination of space and patience provides an opportunity for us to invent solutions that will meet the interests of everyone without making it dichotomous or either/or.

Every aspect of life, especially our treatment of COVID-19, is much more complicated than we would like it to be. And as we’ve learned throughout life, complex problems require complex thinking and a willingness to see and act from opposite ends of the polarity at the same time, asking ourselves questions such as:

  • How can we have that event safely?
  • How can we create connections with others safely?
  • How can we continue to get business results safely?

For example, there is much controversy currently as to whether to reopen schools in the fall, with seemingly everyone on social media definitively declaring either that they should be open because parents can’t be home with their kids and need to get back to work, or they should not because they can’t be reopened safely. As soon as we, for example, pit the economy against the health and safety of people, we begin to argue for and act on things that may not be in our best interest, primarily because we see it as an either/or solution – which doesn’t leave room in the middle for a both/and.

Awareness of how we feel about controversial topics and a recognition of our tendencies can be helpful when we find ourselves sandwiched between one alternative or the other. Simply notice, and then ask yourself what a possible both/and solution might be. Personally, I know when something doesn’t fit my world view, I tend to either ignore it or try to muscle right through it. What do you do? And while those are two possible options, they are only two of myriad options we have at our disposal, with both/and being one of them.

During the early stages of social distancing, I was invited to attend a client meeting in person at the client’s facility, a meeting that I was uncomfortable attending. The client, knowing my commitment to client service and getting the job done, was a little surprised when I said I would prefer a Zoom meeting instead. Because we’re both interested in sports and both know and enjoy baseball, I explained it to him in baseball language. We are in the early part of the game – it’s only the second inning – and I would like to be around and playing at the end of the game. I asked, “How can we ensure that we meet your intended outcome while keeping us both safe?” Fortunately the use of technology, in this instance, provided an opportunity for a both/and solution.

How can you be with something, sitting with it, while allowing for some potential solutions to bubble up from your intuitive mind or higher power? This could enable us to get what we want in a way that allows other people to also get what they want, but perhaps in a much different way than originally thought of. It reminds me of when I was studying with the Covey Leadership Center, which later became Franklin/Covey. Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” referred to effectiveness as the ability to get what we want in a way that enables us to get what we want again, and again, and again.

How can you use both/and to be effective in your leadership?

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