Polarity Management – Barry Johnson

Oftentimes we run into stuff we think we need to solve or discussions that feel like a World War 1 war of attrition where people are entrenching and simply not budging. There is that feeling of being stuck, not being able to create movement because the views to “the problem” are opposite.

And guess what: usually there is no problem to solve, only a polarity to be recognized and dealt with. No solution is the correct one. The existence of both sides of the polarity is what the system needs to be alive. Think of it like breathing: both inhaling and exhaling are necessary, there is not one solution. You need the movement to keep going. There is no either/or only both/and.

Typical examples would be: Team work vs Individual; Clear vs Flexible Leadership; Autocratic vs Participatory management; Ethnicity vs Multi-Ethnicity

Most Memorable Quote: “The good news is you can stop trying to solve them” (i.e. difficulties that are inherently unsolveable).

How does this impact leadership?
As a Co-Active Leader myself, this is where I live: in the full awareness that leaders shine when polarity arises. Co-Active Leaders are not single minded, one solution fits all. On the contrary, we recognize that everything is in flux and that we tap into that vast space (where flux exists) to sense what is trying to happen and work from that.

The name “co-active” says it all: “co”: being; “active” doing; the “-“ as symbol of balance. A continuous dance between the being and the doing. The polarity of life.

Seeing the polarities around us, brings clarity to the directions we are set to voice. Leaders don’t choose sides, leaders harness the power of the polarity and consciously choose the third way: playing with it.

Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.


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