What do you see in this picture?
You might see a gorilla facing a lioness, a tree, or fish. The truth is that all components exist within this image and what you see might actually be less important than the sum of its parts – the gestalt.
The human brain is powerful, much more powerful than any one of us can imagine. Our brains see this image and work to simplify and organize the complexity of the image by subconsciously arranging the parts into a whole. Our brains ignore certain elements, allowing us to see the gorilla and lioness, tree, or fish. But what if we challenged our brains to see the whole picture? What if we applied this to leadership by leveraging dialectical thinking?
Dialectics date back to ancient Greek philosophers. They are characterized by the tension that exists between two seemingly opposite, contradictory thoughts, where the focus on their interplay leads to a greater truth. It is the power in this wholeness, the truth in both thoughts, and the journey of coming to deeper understanding that inspires leaders to both accept their employees’ dialectical dilemmas and promote positive change.
These dialectical dilemmas, or tensions, exist at all levels of an organization and can be a powerful force for leaders. The radical acceptance of opposites and the dialogue that occurs between opposing thoughts leads to a healthier relationship with change.
Take, for example, the Great Resignation, or as my colleague, Jaime Velez, refers to it – The Great Realignment. Much of our recent focus has been on the number of people who have left their jobs, but have we, as leaders, spent enough time truly understanding the thoughts that led to that decision?
You, as a leader, are the only one who can answer that question.
For us to understand the mindset of employees, leaders must explore dialectical thinking patterns and work with them to see the truth in the wholeness. This means viewing change and stagnation as a “both-and” scenario, by encouraging employees to accept the most difficult situations for the way they are rather than avoiding them, and by acknowledging current or past situations without judgement or criticism of self or others. We must work to bring together opposing thoughts to help our employees consider what is being left out – what is not being considered.
Initially I saw the gorilla facing a lioness, but now I see unity, serenity, and the influence that we, as leaders and agents of change, can have on professional growth.