Wendy Smith & Marianne Lewis: The Profound Limitations Of “Either-Or” Thinking

Leadership is full of paradoxes:

Should we build close relationships with our employees or keep a suitable distance?

Should we trust our staff, or keep an eye on what’s happening?

Are we best to display self-confidence – or is humility a greater power?

For many of us, these competing & interwoven demands are a source of conflict. Since our brains love to make either-or choices, we choose one option over the other. We deal with uncertainty by asserting certainty.

The problem is that once we declare certainty – & rule out one option over the other – we effectively undermine our potential success by needlessly believing there’s no way of achieving both.  In other words, we get it all wrong when we think that as managers we can’t be humble and decisive, or believe it’s impossible to build close relationships with employees and retain an appropriate distance.

In their new bestseller, Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Marianne Lewis (left) & Wendy Smith (right) tap into 25 years of their own pioneering research to prove there’s a far more informed & enlightened way of approaching paradoxes in our lives.  And in what’s suddenly become common language, their solution is “both/and” thinking.

The driving question that motivated Smith & Lewis in their extensive research was “What underlies our toughest problems, & how can we deal with it? At the heart of this question was their realization that if we all had better approaches to our problems, we could consistently develop more effective, creative & sustainable solutions.

For years, we’ve seen “either-or” thinking play out in business. We’ve seen how values & ethics get tossed aside in the interest of making profits. We’ve seen CEOs defer exclusively to the demands of shareholders even when doing so harmed all other stakeholders including their employees. These are just two clear examples of how “either-or” bias continues to bias our decision making.

Dr. Wendy Smith is a professor of management at the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business & Economics, & the academic director of her school’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. Dr. Marianne Lewis is the dean of the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner School of Business. Together, they share some truly brilliant insights that bring great clarity to a new & empowered way of thinking.  And the information they share won’t only help make you a more effective leader –more than likely, it will change your entire life!

By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.