BOTH-AND or How to learn to love the stink

Most if not all difficult situations you'll face as a leader will have some sort of contradiction—that's what makes them difficult. Being able to BOTH-AND in those situations is what will make you a great leader.

This article began its life as a Twitter thread.

One of the failure modes I'm seeing with 1st-time leaders is thinking that being a good person makes them a good leader. It certainly helps—nobody wants to work for an asshole. But it's far from enough. You have to study and practice the craft, just like with anything else!

Technical leaders seem to have a particularly difficult time with it when they transition from the certainty of technical solutions to the messy and seemingly irrational humans. Nothing is certain anymore, difficult situations don’t have clear solutions, and after a few mistakes, many 1st-time managers lose faith in themselves and run back to their familiar and comfortable technical work.

To move past that, you have to embrace the uncertainty and discomfort.

Uncertainty and discomfort stink! And you have to learn to love that stink. Like you learned to love coffee or stinky cheese.

Only after you learn to love the stink of uncertainty and discomfort, you start to see beauty in all human interactions.

How do you learn to love the stink?

I think you need to practice the following three skills.

Skill number one, self-awareness: In all of your interactions with other human beings become aware of what's happening for you, what meaning you're making of things, what emotions you're bringing to the table, and name it non-judgmentally.

The second skill, empathy: When another person's POV doesn't agree with yours, move with curiosity from "this is BS" to "wonder what makes this feel like BS to me?" Then let them know that you understand, or working towards understanding.

The third skill, BOTH-AND: Non-judgmentally name what's happening for you AND for another person, and hold BOTH of those realities as true.

Most if not all difficult situations you'll face as a leader will have some sort of contradiction—that's what makes them difficult. E.g., “you're my star performer AND you're hurting the team morale.” Being able to BOTH-AND in those situations is what will make you a great leader.

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