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In Leadership, Look for the “and”

by | Apr 22, 2016

Leading, inspiring, and empowering groups of people is no easy feat. The job of a leader is complex, often fast-paced, and always dynamic. You put one fire out and another one pops up in its place, blazing with even greater intensity. You adapt to a change in the marketplace, and bam! — the conditions change once again. And then there are those times when truly tricky problems arise to which there is no easy fix or solution in sight. To effectively manage this never-ending complexity, leaders must continually strive to get better so they can react more nimbly to the challenges of the day.

You need frameworks you can put to work today.

While much of your leadership development will be an ongoing journey of self-discovery that will take place over a lifetime as you learn, study, and grow — you also need frameworks you can put to work today. The people depending on you can’t wait. The need for action is so often urgent. So we’d like to share a tip you can apply right now. And build upon as you practice it in the long term.

Look for the “and.”

The simple, but powerful framework that has helped our Founder, Doug Conant, immensely throughout his Executive and CEO career is as simple as shifting your mindset — from “or” to “and.”  And it’s an adjustment you can make right away.

What does this mean?

Often times when faced with a thorny conundrum, leaders default to thinking about the problem in terms of “either, or.” Jim Collins calls this tendency the “tyranny of the ‘or’.” It’s easy to see how thinking about problems in this simplistic way is attractive to our lizard brains that are always trying to minimize complexity and prevent us from trying new and different things. So we generally generate two seemingly different paths, weigh the pros and cons, and pick one or the other. But this “either, or” approach is a scarcity approach and it doesn’t help you to be the best leader you can be. The nature of scarcity is to exclude and overlook; it is engineered to make you miss out on good ideas.

A scarcity approach doesn’t help you to be the best leader you can be.

A much better way to tackle the issues you face on a daily basis is to transform your approach from a scarcity model to an abundance model. An abundance model rejects the “tyranny of the ‘or'” and instead, in every situation, looks for what Jim Collins calls, “the genius of the ‘and’.”

For example, instead of proclaiming, “we can either blow it out of the water this quarter OR set the stage for long term growth” — when you are an “and” seeker you might ask, “how can we shoot the lights out in the short term AND set the stage for ongoing growth?” Now, when you’ve brought “the genius of and” to the party, you’ve widened the field, expanded the pie, and paved the way for more, different, and better creative solutions. The nature of abundance is to include and embrace; it is engineered to help you find the best ideas.

People will surprise you with what they come up with when they are free from the restricted approach of having to decide between limited options. When “or” doesn’t exist anymore — only “and” — all things become possible. As you begin to view your daily leadership conundrums through this lens of abundance, you will adapt more quickly to pressure, find more innovative resolutions to problems, and create more value for all stakeholders.

Abundance  is engineered to help you find the best ideas.

As you work to incorporate this new way of thinking, be careful to heed the need for timeliness. It can be incredibly exciting when you first expand your approach and are suddenly exposed to all the possibilities that “the genius of the ‘and’” can bring. But the downside of the “and” if it is not smartly managed is stagnant decision making. It’s an on-demand world. Always be aware of the tension between urgency and abundance and make sure you are creatively and swiftly arriving at a path forward (you’ll get better at this with practice).

A Powerful Approach.

This approach is powerful because it works in the day-to-day nitty gritty of your leadership (i.e. interpersonal squabbles, administrative quandaries, supply chain debacles etc.) — but it also works its magic at a high-level in your entire attitude towards leading in a fundamental and transformative way. Simply by anchoring your actions in “the genius of the ‘and’” you can drive better outcomes and get better results from the people you lead.

Be Tough-Minded and Tender-Hearted to Level Up Your Leadership.

When you look for the “and” in every situation it can – and should – alter your entire leadership style. In particular, when leaders more skillfully negotiate the tug-of-war between being relationship-focused or results-focused, they are poised to meaningfully improve their influence and consequently, their performance. In fact, the best leaders are tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people.

To explain this a little further, it helps to understand that the ability to build quality work relationships is among the most important competencies for the tough-minded leader of the modern age. You can’t build enduring relationships if you are too stern and unforgiving all the time – and you also can’t build optimal relationships if you are consistently too wishy-washy or weak. To become an enlightened leader, you’ve got to carry the spirit of “and” in each of your interactions; you’ll quickly realize that, in leadership today, the “soft” stuff is the hard stuff. No leader can survive by emphasizing one set of skills or the other, or emphasizing a results or relationship approach. They are one and the same! As you work to integrate the “and” into your leadership, you’ll likely have many eureka moments as you observe that “hard” and “soft” skills increasingly overlap, requiring you to hone your craft in a more nuanced way. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised as people respond more and more positively to you as you deftly walk the line between tough and tender.

The best leaders are tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people.

The key to unlocking better results at the granular, and at the high level, is in an abundant approach. The best, and the fiercest leaders, find a way to look for the “and” in small and big moments – and to expertly balance being both resolute and exacting on standards and caring with the people involved. In today’s world, you simply can’t choose scarcity if you want to be effective in an enduring way. To prevail in the fierce and unforgiving modern marketplace, you can visibly level up your leadership by looking for “the genius of the ‘and’” in your very next interaction.

Drop us a line in the comments and let us know how it goes!


Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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  1. Surendra Soni

    A truly wonderful piece…capable to transform if practised with perserverence…

    • DouglasConant

      @disqus_EErhp4QXQk:disqus Thank you for reading and commenting — glad the post resonated.

  2. Rahm

    Love the piece : it is profit and the environment; it is profit and doing good/ the right thing/ quality ; seems hard but it is being done all the time. Amazing results when the challenge is changed .

    • DouglasConant

      @Rahm Thanks for your comment — couldn’t agree more that this abundant approach can seem hard but when employed effectively can yield amazing results.

  3. Linda T.

    Incredible read! It’s fascinating how a “simple” but very open-minded approach can transform the results of a situation. Too often we experience the negative effects of the agonizing “or.” Will be sharing this article and practicing this genius model!

    • DouglasConant

      @suetlinda:disqus Thanks for reading and commenting, Linda! Glad to hear the post resonated. I like your characterization of the “or” as “agonizing” — indeed. What a relief that we can change our mindset and transform our leadership.

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