Middle Ground

three smiling fingers that are very happy to be friends

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.

Know When to Hold’em

Cowboy With Poker Face

There’s an old Kenny Rogers song (yes, I know I’m dating myself) that says, “You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run . . .” All in all, pretty good leadership advice. The only problem is, the song neglects to identify the how. How do you know when it’s time to hold and when it’s time to fold? As you assess the hand that you’ve been dealt, and try to strategize your way to ultimate success, here are a few tips for your consideration.

When to hold’em?

When it is a matter of values, integrity or primary strategic intent, hold fast. If you lose your integrity, you’re sunk as a leader. If you’re flexible on your values when times get tough, your integrity takes a hit. Integrity and values take a long time to establish and a short time to lose. Regardless of the challenges/opportunities presented by others sitting around the table, always hold on to these two. By primary strategic intent I mean the what, not the how. Stay true to your mission, your vision, your ultimate goals. There may be 101 ways to fulfill that mission, but if you lose sight of where you’re going, you’ll probably be disappointed in where you end up.

When to run?

If you’re clear on when to hold’em, then knowing when to run is pretty easy . . . in theory. If it diminishes your integrity, your values, or your strategic intent, it’s time to run. The challenge comes in the fact that some people are pretty good at dressing up a pig. They’ll have all kinds of excuses and “yes, buts.” They’ll tell you to be realistic, to consider the circumstances, that the potential gain is worth it. Your gut will often be telling you to run long before your head does. Listen to it.

When to fold’em or walk away?

Decisions to fold’em tend to be about the how. This path is not going to pan out, so you stop investing in it and find another way forward. It’s not giving up on your goal, it’s just recognizing when you need to find an alternate route. Walking away, on the other hand, signifies that any ultimate gain is not worth the investment it would take. Both are reasonable actions that allow you to have the resources and energy to stand strong on your “hold’em” projects.

Which brings me to one final point . . . based on this “Gambler” approach to leadership, three-quarters of the time you’re not going to pursue the hand you’re dealt. There will be lots of “opportunities” that others will encourage you to take that you should probably pass on, not necessarily because they are bad, they just aren’t the winning hand for you or your organization.

It’s all a matter of knowing when to hold’em.