Try a "Both/And" Approach

It can be easy to approach situations with a default “Either/Or” mindset, also known as a dualistic way of thinking. While there are times where it can make things simpler or more efficient, there are also times where it might be unnecessarily limiting our choices and decision-making. In the book Radical Candor, Karen Scott points out how leaders often feel like they have to choose to be direct or compassionate in their interpersonal interactions. However, she proposes that leaders can both “challenge directly” and “care personally,” meaning that it is possible to be both direct and caring. Along these lines, I have found that many of the leaders I have coached score higher in assertiveness or empathy on the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQi 2.0 – a measure of emotional intelligence). It is fairly rare to see these qualities both high and in balance with one another.

I started thinking about other concepts that are often viewed in an “Either/Or,” dualistic manner.  Where else might we as leaders optimize our performance by taking a “Both/And” approach? Here are some examples I thought of:


Results AND People-focused

Ambitious AND Balanced

Action-oriented AND Reflective

Flexible AND Planful

Confident AND Humble

Achievement AND Service-oriented

Realistic AND Optimistic

Less AND Better

For each pair of words above, where do you tend to have a preference toward one or the other? If you have a strong preference, how might that be limiting your effectiveness in certain situations? How might you shift to a “Both/And” approach?