The Genius of Both - And

F. Scott Fitzgerald  the test of a first rate intelligenceGreat Leadership Lessons,

What I say next is not an over-statement. Of all the many, many things Jim Collins has taught me about leadership, there is one insight that stands above all the others. It is an insight not just about leadership, but about life itself. It was a paradigm shifting insight and it affects all my thinking about everything. Whether it is leadership, spirituality, theology, culture, mission, communication... this insight is core. Here it is.

It is the Genius of Both-And.

Simply it means this. We are dualists at heart. We tend to fall into an Either-Or mentality. We think we can have one thing or the other. Some examples . . . 

  • Have high quality OR low price
  • Embrace change OR stability
  • Visionary leadership or mangerial leadership
  • Theory or practicality
  • Short term profits OR long term profits
  • Careful strategic planning OR spontaneous seizing of opportunities

You get the picture. I could add many more. We suffer from these all the time in our Christian faith. Here are some example.

  • Theology OR spirituality
  • Biblical OR practical
  • Propositional OR story
  • Systematic OR narrative
  • God is loving OR God is holy
  • God is transcendent OR God is immanent
  • God is sovereign OR humanity is responsible
  • God wills OR man wills
  • Justification OR sanctification
  • Grace OR works
  • Heart OR mind
  • This list could be very are probably thinking of some additional ones right now...

Jim Collins says we must resist our inevitable tendency toward dualism. Whenever we are dualistic, we will lean toward an either-or approach. We will prefer and choose one half of the equation over the other. Whenever you choose one half over the other half - you run into problems, SERIOUS ones, I might add. In Christianity, this is how we fall into heresies. In the world of leadership, it is how we fall into non-sustainable organizational models. In your personal life, it is leads do dysfunction.

It Does Not Need To!

both and  the genius of both andThe Genius of the Both-And means we can and must hold these apparent opposities in a creative tension. The apparent opposites create a paradox NOT a contradiciton. A contradiction is this:

God is sovereign. God is not sovereign. That is a contradiction and a logical impossibility.

God is sovereign. Man is free and responsible. That is not a contradiction. It is simply a paradox and perhaps even a mystery. How can it be so? That is hard to figure out. which is why we prefer dualistic Either-Or approaches.

M. Scott Fitzgerald gives us a great clue about our "way of proceeding." Fitzgerald says:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold
two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time,
and still retain the ability to function.

I love it. Christians are called to have a first-rate intelligence. In fact, to be a normal Christian requires a fine mind. We must learn to hold these tensions / paradoxes together. God has joined them together, man tears them asunder, wisdom knits them together. We hold them together and we retain the ability to function - very well. In fact, we attain the ability to function at all. For the either-or dualisms appear to be a way to survive, but they inevitably lead to ruin.

Great Leadership requires a mind that can hold the many paradoxes of organizational leadership in creative tension. It is at this place of creative tension that innovative solutions present themselves, that daring alternatives materialize, that push-the-envelope options emerge. 

So what tensions do you struggle with?
What either-or issues have you taken one side or the other?
And how is that working for you?
What Both-And new ways of thinking, living and leading are you called to explore?

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International