Did you ever write something that produced an unexpected response? And then that response produced unplanned action? That happened to me this week.

After I sent out last Sunday’s newsletter, I received a gratifying response from an old friend. She told me that she liked my newsletter on both/and thinking and that she, in fact, was going to be doing a webinar Wednesday for the Harvard Negotiation Project addressing Polarities – a very parallel subject.

So, of course, I watched her webinar and was blown away by the amount of wisdom she dispensed in just one hour of time. My friend’s name is Betsy Miller. She is a partner at the Cohen Millstein law firm in DC, an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, a leadership coach, a consultant and a writer and lecturer for Harvard. An amazingly accomplished woman! I encourage you to follow her on LiinkedIn.

With Betsy’s gracious permission, I would like to share with you some of her learning points about polarities because leaders who understand and use polarities can expedite their progress up the leadership ladder.

It is important to understand what polarities are; I had not been familiar with the concept until I participated in Georgetown’s Leadership Coaching Program. Polarities are two opposing preferences that are interdependent, and good leaders need the benefits of both.

Examples of polarities are:
-advocacy and inquiry
-maximizing the pie and dividing the pie
-stability and change
-growth and consolidation
-innovation and efficiency
-short-term and long-term
-intuition and facts
-structure and flexibility

Here are some excellent points that Betsy shared with her audience about polarities:

-Leaders can recognize polarities, name them, identify the benefits and over-usage of each pole, then create a plan to recognize their own behaviors and build out the opposing pole for their own benefit

-We need to be aware of our ongoing preferences because when we become overly attached to one pole, that creates a blind spot to the opposite pole

-Moreover, if we become too attached to one pole of a polarity, it can become part of our identity

-When behavior attached to one pole becomes part of our identity, we see ourselves as “right” and we are not willing to consider other people’s viewpoints

-Good leaders leverage the benefits pf both poles of a polarity in order to evolve during their leadership journeys

-We can start by identifying our current preferences and then striving to understand and value the opposite pole for each of our traditional preferences, fighting against adopting an adversarial mindset

-Leveraging polarities helps leaders get “unstuck” from their own stories or, as coaches like to ask: “Do you have your story or does your story have you?”

-If you want to work on identifying your preferences and leveraging polarities, consider using a coach or asking a confidante to become your “accountability partner” who can see your triggers happening in real time

-As you work to be a more effective leader, embrace growth, not perfection!

Thanks to Betsy for sharing her wisdom with hundreds of people through the Harvard Negotiation Project and now for giving me permission to share it with you.

Please remember to give yourself permission not to be too hard on yourselves, to stay curious just a little while longer, and to develop your growth mindset. Enjoy your unique leadership journeys!

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