LEADERS AVOID EITHER/OR THINKING 2023-05-11T00:31:34-04:00


This week I received an email from Dorie Clark.  Dorie is an accomplished author, speaker, entrepreneur, and coach.  She writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review and for Fast Company magazine.  I encourage you to check out her work.

In her email, Dorie raised a reminder of what I had learned during my time as a student in the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching Program.  Her reminder was to avoid “either/or” thinking and replace it with “both/and” thinking.  When I read her email, I smiled ruefully.

As a young leader decades ago, I was always striving for the “right” answer.  In my reading, my research, and my conversations with respected colleagues or teammates, I was always looking for the “correct” response, strategy, or initiative.  I would weigh alternatives and select the “right” one, rejecting all the other alternatives.  I thought either Option A was correct or Option B or C was correct.

Over the years, I learned the hard way that “either/or” thinking is very limiting.  It limits our thinking paths and limits our options.  As a young leader, I liked “either/or” thinking because it was easy and provided certainty.  As someone with a few OCD tendencies, I appreciated that certainty.  I could easily categorize options as “good” or bad,” as “simple” or “complex.”  Our human brains are drawn towards “either/or” thinking, or binary thinking because it makes life – and leadership – faster and more convenient.

However, “either/or” thinking is not conducive to excellent leadership.  When leaders can replace their “either/or” thinking with “both/and” thinking, they immediately open up their teams and themselves to greater possibilities.  They recognize that two options, realities, or solutions may both be true or available at the same time.

In a “Psychology Today” article back in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Kellogg School Professor of Leadership Michelle Buck wrote:
“Business leaders know that the issues they face are not simply black and white.  They navigate creative tensions of “both/and” thinking between short-term and long-term focus, innovation and efficiency, and purpose, and profit.  In these scenarios, both must be pursued for an organization to thrive, not one or the other.”

So as you continue on your personal leadership journeys, please remember to reject “either/or” thinking as much as you can and to open your mind to the more complex, more productive, and more fulfilling process of “both/and” thinking.

It will help you become a more effective leader!