When our son Chris was home from university to celebrate his 22nd birthday, he and I had a conversation about how much more complex, nuanced, and interesting the world has become for him than when he was a teenager. During his teenage years, the world, and most of the people he encountered in it, could be easily divided into right and wrong, stupid and smart, good and bad, or cool and not cool. With his interest in politics, we had many ideological debates about the social and political issues of the day. He had strong beliefs and clear answers for just about every situation. I often argued both sides of an issue — even the side I didn’t believe in — to try to help him understand that it wasn’t that black and white.
Chris’s major in his first-year at university was “political science.” He had failed to find the humor in me calling “political science” an oxymoron. At the time of this discussion, he was in his third year and had to write papers arguing both sides of issues, even presenting the opposite side to his own belief. He had become more tolerant and understanding of the world’s subtleties and complexities. In other words, he had grown up.
There are clearly times when we do need to take a stand and draw a firm line between what we see as right and wrong or moral and immoral. Hiding behind ambiguity or waffling on our position can be a sign of low integrity and a lack of leadership. But the capacity to live in the grey zone between black and white is a sign of maturity. A great deal of destruction and disaster in organizations, relationships, families, religions, and throughout societies comes from the intolerance and inflexibility of immature “leaders” who believe there are clear right and wrong answers to just about every situation. Their harsh and judgmental positions usually come from a place of fear and insecurity.
Leadership development provides many examples of balancing sometimes opposing approaches to create a powerful combination. The new research on Bold Leadership such as the July blog published in tomorrow’s issue of the August issue of The Leader Letter is a great example. So are the blogs on balancing life in the fast lane with slow country backroads, how towering strengths can overcome weaknesses, building leadership development on the job, and using 360 assessments for both performance management and personal development.
May you find the right shades of grey to strengthen your leadership effectiveness!