By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

As kids we were taught to do a lot of either/or thinking – as in “either you take out the garbage or you can go to your room for the rest of your life.”

Seriously, there are a lot of either/or basics to learn as a kid:

  • Either stay out of the street or you’ll get run over.
  • Either tell the truth or no one will believe you about anything.
  • Either do your homework or go straight to bed.

Actions have consequences

The point is, when we are in our formative stages, that our actions have consequences – either natural or imposed. But whatever it is that we are thinking of doing or not doing, we cannot do it (or cannot not do it) with impunity.

It’s a great, invaluable lesson to learn.

Both/and dimension

But all the training we get in choosing either one option or another when we are children can trap us in a mindset that’s not very useful in the adult world.

So many things about mature living – and choosing – requires that we see the both/and dimension of life.

The examples are countless. But here’s one that’s very important for leaders – meaning anyone who hopes to influence anyone else.

Consistent and agile

Leaders have to be both consistent and agile.

“It’s in the combination of consistency and agility that leaders can become strategic, performing an organization’s purpose with excellence but changing course when the situation demands,” says John Coleman, writing in Harvard Business Review.

Leaders who can be both consistent and agile “have high quality standards, achieve goals, and expect consistency, but they are also open to change, keep an eye on the external environment, and understand when old ways of working no longer pass the test of the market in which they compete,” Coleman says.

Of course, all of us reach adulthood with a full complement of personality traits. And that means most of us will be better at one or the other. Some leaders seem to be almost naturally consistent. Others seem to be blessed with agility from the moment they take their first steps.

Art and science of compensation

So how do we achieve a balance of consistency and agility when we’re almost certainly not perfectly balanced ourselves?

The answer is other people.

Here are a few ways we can get other people to help us achieve a balance that is not natural to us:

  • We can listen -- if we ask trusted family members and friends how consistent and agile we are (or aren’t), they can tell us.
  • We can see what the results are if we undergo a 360-degree review.
  • We can hire people who are strong where we are weak so they can compensate for our weakness.

Whatever we do, we will do it better if we develop our self-awareness and suppress our egos.

If some is good ...

From time to time it’s good to remind ourselves of Owen’s Law: “If some is good, more will kill you.”

It’s true of something as basic as water. We can’t live without it, but neither can we survive drinking mass quantities all at once.

That’s another thing that often gets neglected during our early formation. We are told one thing is good, another is bad. Over and over again ... about a lot of stuff. And in many instances, that’s a very true and valuable lesson.

But in other cases whether something is good or bad comes down simply to scale. For example, a great many things that are toxic in higher doses are actually medicinal in smaller doses. Take the appropriate dose and you get better. Take more and you die.

It’s the same way with consistency and agility.

  • If we are very consistent but not agile, we will be rigid.
  • If we are very agile but not consistent, we will behave erratically, without focus.

Fortunately, we can avoid worst case scenarios with a high degree of self-awareness and a little help from our friends ... as well as family members and co-workers.