I am a middle child. Yes, I’ve heard all the stereotypes, and I choose to believe the research that indicates, besides being peacemakers, middlers are also independent and able to think outside the box. I also happen to believe that, in addition to birth order, the middle ground can be an important place for leaders who want to make long-term sustainable impact in their organization and community.
We have become a society of extremes (and no, I am not just talking politics here!). We are all in, or an idea is foolhardy. It seems that far too often these days, people are staking out positions and then, when someone doesn’t share their perspective, that person is seen as morally deficit rather than simply seeing the world through a different lens. Really? Are we so insecure in our own thinking that we can’t even tolerate listening to someone who has had a different experience? Even if we don’t totally buy into someone’s position, can we not find areas of common ground that we can build on?
Finding middle ground doesn’t just apply to contentious issues. Maybe it doesn’t seem practical for you to focus on just one thing every day, but the idea of making progress on your key goals is important. How about keeping your to-do list to no more than six things? In this way, you recognize the importance of focus while finding a middle ground to get things done that may seem more realistic for you. Maybe instead of totally changing your entire diet and exercise routine (or lack thereof) you can cut back on sugar and vow to get up out of your chair and walk around more. You get the idea.
What about in your leadership responsibilities? Are there situations where you could benefit from looking outside the box and finding a third way? Consider different perspectives, look for common ground and workable aspects of both viewpoints, and use those as the foundation of a third option? Doing so requires a certain measure of trust, and a willingness to keep an open mind, which can be hard. As leaders, there can be a tendency to think that we should have the answers, to control a situation. But what if the answer is to agree on an end goal, and then to listen to a range of voices before determining a path forward?
Sure there are times when from a moral or values perspective a leader will stake out a position that is non-negotiable, but that should be the exception not the rule. Finding the middle ground doesn’t mean you are wishy-washy or not willing to commit. It does mean that you are independent enough to listen to a range of voices and are willing to adapt your plans or perspective based on new information.
Out-of-the-box? Maybe. But you just might be surprised at the progress you can make when you look for the middle ground.