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Jesse Lyn Stoner

Management

Manage Polarities... or Step Off the Seesaw

The problem with a seesaw is that it’s not possible to stay exactly in the middle

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 12:02

Do you seesaw back and forth, trying to manage polarities in your life and find the right balance?

There are a lot of seesaws you can get caught on: overcommitted—bored, trust too easily—distrustful, being agreeable—blowing up, overeating—dieting.

When the seesaw tips, our natural tendency is to try to rebalance. And often that is the best thing to do. Barry Johnson, author of the book, Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems (Amazon Digital Services, 2011), uses the metaphor of breathing to help explain how we naturally manage polarities. We breathe oxygen in and CO2 out. Without this natural rebalancing, we could not exist. Polarity management is about seeing the polarities, recognizing warning signs that you’re heading toward the downside, and moving toward the upside of the opposite pole. This is an excellent way of rebalancing before you get too out of balance and a helpful way to solve complex problems.

But sometimes rebalancing is not the best solution

Trying to manage polarities is not always the best solution. Sometimes neither of the choices are good ones. Sometimes there’s a different choice you never considered.

Take the work hard/play hard seesaw, for example. On this seesaw, you work harder and harder until you start to burn out. You take time off, perhaps a great vacation, to get reenergized. It’s hard to totally relax because you know what’s building up and waiting for you while you’re away. You return and jump back into the fray and immediately start to burn out again. That’s a tough way to live, which we often learn the hard way by getting sick.

Or consider the over-/under-management seesaw where a leader delegates responsibility but swoops back in periodically, giving direction, and then disappears again—a confusing and demoralizing seesaw for his team and an ineffective management style.

The problem with being on a seesaw is it’s not possible to stay exactly in the middle. You are always off balance. And you can throw other people off balance, too.

An alternative is to step off the seesaw

You don’t have to do the opposite of what you were doing to rebalance. You don’t have to go back and forth between the two ends of a seesaw.

Sometimes, you can simply step off the seesaw.

For example, in the case of the over-/under-management seesaw, you can get off the seesaw by redefining your role as a manager. Instead of seeing your role as an overseer, you redefine it as a servant. As a servant leader, your job is to help employees develop the skills they need, ensure access to the resources they need, provide the information they need, and be available when they need your help or advice.

In the case of the work hard/play hard seesaw, you can rethink the work you are doing, and find a way to do work you truly enjoy and that feels like play much of the time. It might require making a big life choice such as a career change, more education, moving, or letting go of security. To make a big shift like this, it helps to be guided by a compelling vision.

Three tips to help you step off the seesaw

Recognize you’re on a seesaw. It’s not so easy to get off a seesaw because we often don’t even recognize we’re on one. And when we do, we assume it’s the way of life, and there are no other options. So the first step is to simply recognize your situation—you are on a seesaw that is not serving you.

Stop the seesaw. When off balance, our natural inclination is to do the opposite of what you were doing. But this reaction, as logical as it seems, keeps you on the seesaw. It can feel uncomfortable to simply stop what you are doing without taking any other action. This tension is natural and important. It’s called creative tension because it is the creative force that will help you move to a new possibility.

See more than the seesaw. Take time for reflection. Find the bigger picture that includes more than the seesaw. Consider these questions:
• How exactly does this seesaw work? What do I do at each end? What prompts me to move toward the other end?
• How does this seesaw affect my ability to do my work?
• How does it affect me personally?
• How does it affect others?
• What role does this seesaw play?
• What benefits do I get from this seesaw?
• Is there a bigger purpose that this seesaw serves?
• Is it possible to accomplish both ends of the seesaw at the same time?
• Is there something that is more important than either end of the seesaw?
• What might it look like if I weren’t on this seesaw?

The answers to these questions can lead you to a shift in your philosophy, how you see your role, and your options and choices.

First published March 2018, on Jesse Lyn Stoner’s Blog. © 2018 Jesse Stoner

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About The Author

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

Jesse Lyn Stoner

Jesse Lyn Stoner, founder of consultancy Seapoint Center, has worked with hundreds of leaders using collaborative processes to engage the entire workforce in creating their desired future. Stoner has authored several books including Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd rev. ed. 2011), co-authored with Ken Blanchard. Stoner is recognized by the American Management Association as one of the Top Leaders to Watch in 2015 and by INC Magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Experts. Stoner has advanced degrees in psychology and family system, and a doctorate in organizational development.