Trade-Ups, Not Trade-Offs


As leaders, part of our responsibility is to maximize the resources before us. And yet, far too many leaders squander what could be one of their greatest assets — the diversity of experiences and perspectives among their staff — because they think their view of how the world works is THE right perspective. Peter Senge refers to such deeply held internal images or perspectives as “mental models,” and we are often unaware of how they may be influencing our actions until we bump into someone else’s view of the world that is different from our own. When that occurs, many people default to an assumption that “I am right, so you must be wrong.”

What if instead of taking an either/or approach, we considered both/and? Roger Martin refers to people who leverage diverse viewpoints as integrative thinkers. Leaders who are willing to walk through the tension of opposing ideas have the opportunity to draw on the wisdom of multiple perspectives to arrive at a solution that is stronger than any of the initial stances. In effect, the outcome can be a trade-up, not a trade-off.

Make no mistake, working for the trade-up can be messy. It takes a strong, confident leader to hold the reins of a diversity of perspectives while keeping the team focused on the collective end goal. And yet, that is a critical part of the equation if you want 1+1 to equal 3. Trade-offs are about winners and losers — 1+1-1=1. And while that approach may seem quicker and easier, when trade-offs are a leader’s standard response, you will eventually lose the engagement of a chunk of your people. They will start (actively or passively) working against you rather than with you. Trade-off indeed.

So how do you start in your effort to trade-up?

  • Decide. The first step is for a leader to decide — and clearly communicate — that you are going for the trade-up, not the trade-off. Otherwise, it is too easy to settle when the going gets tough.
  • Listen. Not to rebut someone’s position, but to hear what they are saying. How are their experiences or perspectives different from your own?
  • Inquire. Genuinely seek to understand someone’s feedback to your own perspective. Repeat back to them what you are hearing to ensure your defenses aren’t skewing the feedback.
  • Invite. Invite all involved to search for solutions that take various perspectives into account and result in a stronger option than any of those originally presented.

Trade-ups may seem less efficient… in the beginning. However, working toward a common goal rather than against “the other side” builds a momentum and a long-term framework for success that allows you to leapfrog ahead of those focused on either/or. I’ll take 3 over 1 any day.

Trade-up or trade-off. The choice is yours.


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