Our last post introduced some of the problems with the Management Grid, especially when you are attempting to lead organizations with strong elements in multiple cultures. Let’s look at some possible solutions.

Managerial Grid versus Yin/Yang

One way to resolve the either/or extremism of the Management Grid is Situational Leadership, which expects the leader to consider the circumstances surrounding various decisions prior to taking action. But, as pointed out in the last article, this consideration is not rooted in finding a balance or a harmony. Rather, it’s all about achieving an

Both the yin and the yang are necessary

objective (and, in Western cultures, those objectives are usually short-term: quarterly profits, monthly production, and so on). Even today, Chinese culture looks at opposites not as exclusives, but as complementaries. The sun and the moon are both necessary and needed in their own domains. So are hot and cold, male and female, bitter and sweet. Western cultures look at these as either-or options. Chinese look at these as necessary elements to make a whole.

Let’s look at two extremes—those first called for in the Management Grid model way back in 1964. Concern for People is certainly a valuable and necessary leadership quality. But so is concern for production.

Concern for People would be considered the yin value or characteristic—it is passive, nurturing, and compassionate. The more aggressive of the two characteristics—Concern for Production—would be considered the yang value of the two. It is more competitive, aggressive, and forward-moving. Both qualities are necessary, in a general as well as a

Leaders are constantly pulled in two directions: concern for people and concern for production

specific sense. At times, a leader must be more concerned with one or the other, but a leader should never be consumed with only one of the two opposites; she must find a balance and a harmony between the two.

These characteristics are necessary from a foundational perspective. They are, indeed, the groundwork upon which all leaders must build. All leaders need to be concerned with the people they lead. And all leaders must be concerned with the results, the objective, the product to be built. If a leader is, in his heart, concerned only with people, or only with results, the leader will fail.

It’s here that Aristotle’s Golden Mean comes into play: any virtue has two opposites. But in the Golden Mean, the two opposites are defined as extreme excess and extreme deficiency. It’s difficult to say that concern for people is either an extreme excess or an extreme deficiency. The same for concern for production. But the notion of finding a proper balance between the two is what good leaders are constantly doing.

The Value of Kapuna

The Hawaiian philosophy of Kapuna pulls leaders between the past and the future

Another set of two extremes would be Allegiance to the Past and Duty to the Future—taken from the Hawaiian culture. These are equally necessary for successful leadership, are complementary opposites. Considered individually and independently, they can become two extremes of a proper planning effort. If a leader is concerned only with an Allegiance to the Past, he may become stale, inflexible, and outdated. The world will change around him, but his clinging to the traditions, methods, products, and approaches of past generations will not save him.

On the other hand, the leader who is all-consumed with his Duty to the Future—be it shareholder value, delivery of a service, reaching new markets, or otherwise plowing forward without an eye to the lessons learned, wisdom gained, and expertise achieved by past experience—risks losing the very thing he strives to achieve: success in the marketplace, in the community, or among his peers. He risks losing all because of his inability to acknowledge the virtue of finding a balance between looking to the future and venerating the past. And so, once again, the virtue to be achieved is somewhere in the center—and that “somewhere” may be different today than it will be tomorrow; it may be closer to Allegiance to the Past for one circumstance, yet very near Duty to the Future in another circumstance. The situation, the people, the circumstances, and the character of the leader and those whom he leads all dictate the degree to which harmony will be found—but it will always be found somewhere between the two extremes.

Allegiance to the Past would be considered the yin: it is calm, retrospective, considerate, and peaceful. Duty to the Future is the yang: driving for results, leaving a legacy, and achieving greatness are active and competitive elements of this extreme.

Allegiance to the Past and Duty to the Future are two sides of the same coin of planning. As leaders plan for the future and make decisions regarding organizational direction, new ventures or new products, strategic thinking and visioning, or any other embarkation of any significance, they must be willing to find the proper balance between the yin of the past and the yang of the future. Again, at times and in varying circumstances, the proper balance will be closer to one than to the other. It is the wise, prudent, humble, and deliberate leader who will find the balance—the harmony—between the two extremes.

Personal Values or Doing What’s Best?

Another set of two extremes are being True to Personal Values and doing what is Best for the Situation. Being True to Personal Values is critical for any leader. One cannot lead if one does not personally embrace the actions to be taken. Cognitive dissonance will win out, and either personal values will be modified or personal behaviors will be changed. Personal values could be based on religious teachings, codes of ethics, personal, family, or organizational mission statements, or simply a non-codified, informal statement of personal beliefs.

For leaders of organizations, personal values sometimes compete with what is best for the situation

Doing what is Best for the Situation, on the other hand, may require what some perceive to be a violation of personal values. For instance, if my personal values include integrity and I am asked by a struggling public relations intern—who has talent yet lacks confidence—if his press release was “good,” I may do what is Best for the Situation and say, “Yes—it’s terrific.” Is that a violation of my personal commitment to integrity? Some may argue it is. But the higher purpose of helping a floundering, up-and-coming professional calls for a decision to be made on a highly subjective evaluation. The higher law of doing what is Best for the Situation supersedes and transcends the need to remain True to Personal Values—and so the choice is made.

At times, the two extremes actually align—just as a solar eclipse sometimes aligns the yin of the moon and the yang of the sun. Sometimes, doing what is Best for the Situation actually does mean remaining True to Personal Values. But many times—indeed, some would argue that most of the time—these two forces compete, and the successful leader will find the harmony and balance between the two.

Yin and Yang

If you consider these three sets of complementary opposites, you could consider them as a six-sided cube. The challenge and the opportunity for every leader is to find the perfect balance in the three-dimensional center of this cube:

  • Concern for people vs. concern for production
  • Allegiance to the past and duty to the future
  • True to personal values and doing what is best for the situation

Enduring truths such as the Golden Mean, yin and yang, and reverence for the past should not be cast aside merely because they are old. Indeed, that is the very reason they should be embraced. The enduring nature of these models, theories, or truths is evidence of the success of their ongoing application and of the long-held convictions of cultures throughout the world.




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