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Organizational Development

Dynamic Leadership: the Yin & Yang of Managing

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Question: What do yoga, Romeo and Juliet, and your thumb have to do with managing your company?  Answer: Dynamic Opposition

“Dynamic opposition” refers to the way opposing forces can be brought together in a positive integration of effort to foster dramatic energy. Adopting a mindset of dynamic opposition will help you strategize better, market better and hire better. You will manage your company more efficiently, more creatively, and bring more of your natural abilities to your leadership role every day, simply by recognizing the dynamic opposition in everything you do.

Consider the Thumb

Human thumbs are called “opposable” because they can touch every other finger on the hand, allowing us, like our primate relatives (and Pandas, so I hear) to use tools.  This dynamic opposition of our thumb to our fingers separates humans from other creatures on the planet and opens up worlds of possibility in what we can DO.

The Zen of Romeo and Juliet

My personal “ah ha” regarding dynamic opposition came when I was in my twenties, living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  At the time, I was studying yoga, and also applying to graduate programs in directing. The holy grail of directing programs was Yale Drama.  It was a long shot: two applicants out of hundreds are chosen each year to attend the costly three-year masters program.   I was to prepare a director’s “concept”  for Romeo and Juliet to present at my upcoming interview in New Haven.  One morning, in yoga class, I found myself in tadasana, or “mountain” pose. It’s a very simple pose.  Imagine standing up straight, feet together and pointing forward, arms down at your sides.  You lift your arms up and out and continue to lift them until your fingertips point up to the ceiling.  You relax your shoulders and stand there.  You are in tadasana.  Sort of.  While you’re standing there, your instructor will say things like “imagine your feet spreading out on the floor; send your energy down through the floor into the earth.  Now, wriggle up and out of your rib-cage, keeping your shoulders relaxed.  Engage the backs of your arms, your triceps, as your fingertips reach up to the sky and SHOOT your energy up through your fingers and the top of your head — but keep your shoulders down — pull up out of the rib-cage; keep your thigh muscles engaged; pull up on the groin as you push down into the floor …”  and so on and so on.

My epiphany came when, in tadasana, I noticed that I was dripping sweat. Why?  As I breathed deeply and audibly through the effort of the motionless pose, I realized that by sending my energy in opposite directions, I was creating dynamic heat within my body and getting a workout. I tested my theory throughout the class, on every pose.  If one knee pointed forward and one heel pointed back, I concentrated on shooting energy out in those opposing directions.  If my tailbone was supposed to rise up to the ceiling in “down dog,” I focused on my heels moving downward in opposition.  Yoga changed for me that day and became both more physical and more mental.  It was a breakthrough, kind of like the day you can miraculously ride a two-wheeled bike.  It suddenly makes kinesthetic sense.

I immediately generalized this lesson to Romeo and Juliet.  Anyone who has read it in their 9th grade English class knows that “opposites” are a central theme in the play.  Night vs. day, dark vs. light, hate vs. love, etc.  What I had not yet figured out, however, was that these opposing forces were what gave the play it’s energy, it’s movement, and it’s meaning — it’s life. I went home and created a production book full of scene ideas; Tybalt, the macho swordsman, would be played by a woman actor, to create a dynamic depiction of maleness from a female perspective; the colors of the set would be of deep greens for the Capulets and reds for the Montagues, played out on a black & white checkerboard floor — the complementary colors splashing on a background at once neutral and polarized.  Women’s costumes would be soft and flowing, revealing the body beneath, mens costumes made of hard, unyielding materials protecting and shielding the body inside.  The tempo of the play would be very fast, movement would be angular and the sounds loud and mechanistic.  Then, the high point of the show would be a long, slow, sensual love scene between Romeo and Juliet, played out in complete silence except for their amplified breathing.   The  costumes would come off, allowing male and female to melt into one sexy yin/yang of transcendence.  Awesome.

I didn’t get in to Yale Drama.  But I made second alternate.  I credit dynamic opposition.

Finding the “dynamic opposition” in your day-to-day management isn’t always black and white. Unlike yoga, in which it’s clear — send your energy in opposite directions — in management it can be more subtle. If you look at some familiar paradoxes, like how often you hear “experts” say “I don’t know,” you can see “dynamic opposition” at work.  Here are some basic principles you can follow to harness the power of dynamic opposition as you manage your business:

To reach out to your market, think about yourself.

You MUST focus on your market. Absolutely. But your brand is YOU — it’s your company. You’ve got to look inward at the same time you look outward. If you only focus on the market, if your strategy is completely outwardly determined, you’ll neglect to develop an authentic organizational identity and culture. And customers today crave authenticity. The key to real competitive advantage is finding the sweet spot where the authentic value your organization provides overlaps with what your market needs.

Experts are the folks who say “I don’t know” (and “I don’t knows” are prerequisites  for “ah-has”)

Imagine this scenario: you’re at a conference, at the cocktail break, and you spot the keynote speaker standing by him or herself.  You’ve been waiting patiently for an opportunity to ask this expert a question.   You approach them.  You ask your question.  They pause. Their eyes roll up and to the left, focused on nothing. They murmur, “hmmmmm, now that’s interesting…”  Then, they look directly at you, possibly raising an eyebrow and say “I don’t know.”  Suddenly, you feel very smart, because what puzzles you puzzles the expert too!  You find yourself in a conversation, exploring the matter together.  That’s how experts become experts — by always exploring, by never taking things for granted, by seeking out the next question.  The people you think already know it all are the very people who never stop learning. We all want to prove how much we know.  Establish our credibility.  Get recognized as an expert.  Years of experience accumulated, numbers of books read,  patents filed — aren’t these the requirements for reward and belonging?  Yes.  But they are not ingredients for originality and innovation.  Discovery is more important.  And a willingness to risk.  First, know your domain deeply. Then, question everything you know.  Whenever you’re about to make a decision, stay in a state of “not knowing” as long as you can so you can experience a big “ah ha.” It’s a tantric approach to learning — the longer you keep the orgasmic discovery at bay, the bigger it will feel. Your team will love you and hate you for it.  Just as everyone is getting up from the meeting table, ready to spring into action, they’ll hear you muse, “…but hold on, what about this?..”  They’ll slowly sit back down, stifling sighs, as they ready themselves to dive deeper.

It’s irrational not to think irrationally.

A 2007 study* on management practice revealed that unifying linear and non-linear thinking styles into a more comprehensive model enhanced problem solving and decision-making effectiveness. If you’re like me, you were taught the scientific perspective, which tells us all systems can be broken down into understandable parts, these parts can be examined and understood, then reassembled into an understandable whole.  This way of thinking relies on cognitive processes such as reason, logic and rationality. Non-linear thinking is more useful, however, when we’re trying to understand complex and unpredictable nonlinear systems – kind of like the environment most of us face today.  Nonlinear thinking emphasizes cognitive processes of insight, creativity, flexibility and emotion. Please, I beg you, don’t let me hear you say “I’m not creative.”   You’ve got all these cognitive abilities – why not use them?

Hire people who oppose you, or at least challenge you.

Are you a bright, Ivy-league educated guy? Or maybe you’re a MBA who minored in women’s studies.  Perhaps you’ve finally quit your job of twelve years and started that company you always dreamed about.  Whatever stereotype fits, chances are you’ve surrounded yourself with lots of versions of you. Cut it out.  There’s no energy where there’s no dynamic opposition. Scare yourself a little and get some people on your team who will question your most deeply, and dearly, held beliefs. The greatest insights come when we’re forced to see things in new ways by bumping up against the unexpected. We’re told to “stick with the winners” and hire the “best and the brightest.”  There’s nothing wrong with that advice, but there’s a lot wrong with how we measure “winner” and “best” and “brightest.”  A winner is someone who calls me out on what I think I know and gets me humble fast.  The “best” and “brightest” are the people who make me look at things from new perspectives.  More often than not, they grew up in a different world than I did.

“Best Practice” = “Worst Practice?”

Grok this dynamic opposition:  in a knowledge based economy, originality is king.  As soon as anything becomes a “best practice” it’s too old to be best any more. You must understand “best practices,” because your competitors are using them.  And you must simultaneously intuit how a “best practice” doesn’t fit the present situation.  Then you can discover the next original product, solution, model or idea.

Every answer contains the next question.

You’ll be a better leader if you make everything iterative.  Got a question?  Find an answer. Then, test the answer — a lot.  Hold the results up to examination.  Is there a better question?  Probably.  Keep the dance alive.

As a business owner, you make decisions every day.  You want to see your company grow and succeed.  By staying aware of the potential energy dynamic opposition provides, you make sure you bring all of yourself to your work, leave no stone unturned in your decision making, and model values of learning, discovery and creativity to your entire organization.

References:
Vance, C.M., Groves, K.S., Paik, Y., Kindler, H. (2007). Understanding and measuring linear-non-linear thinking style for enhanced management education and professional practice. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 6 (2), 167-185.

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Biography

Julia Fischer Baumgartner, PsyD

Julia is an expert in divergent thinking and creativity coaching. Her background in the fine arts affords her particular respect for the creative aspirations of business leaders. Working with them, she digs through and questions absolutely everything in order to get to the heart of their vision. Then she helps make their vision ubiquitous, resonating at every level of the organization. She understands the kinds of thinking and management approaches that drive organizations to sustainable competitive advantage when innovation counts. Doctor of Psychology in Organizational Consulting, Julia has more than 20 years of experience in both management and the arts. She’s a former free-lance director (she holds a MFA degree in Directing), and served as the co-artistic director of the critically acclaimed 15 Head – a theatre lab, in Minneapolis, MN.

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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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