Those Thin Blurred Lines

The more I watch this year’s election unfold — especially the Presidential Debates — the more I am reminded of that old axiom I wrote about early in the life of this blog, “Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses.”

Campaigning for office is no small trick.  A candidate enters the race with a set of convictions, values,and ideas, as well as a personal communication style and inescapable personality quirks.  That individual has to maintain authenticity while winning support from those who might not be all that easy to convince. We play by the rules in a democracy of representation, where majority rule determines our elected officials and they determine our laws, ostensibly voicing the will of the people.  Yet we also seek leadership from aspiring candidates and those elected, to help the electorate understand and embrace new concepts and styles they may not initially support, but leaders believe they may come to support.

How jolly is that?  Be yourself, but not so much that non-supporters rule you out, then enact the will of the people, while helping guide them to points of view they don’t necessarily embrace.  Lots of contradiction.  You’d wonder why anyone would want to do it — yet hardly unique to electoral politics.

Anywhere there are people, there are politics.  If you don’t think you have office politics all around you on the job, perhaps you work under a cone of silence.  There are politics in families, politics in communities, politics among friends.  Our very individuality — those special and defining ideas and elements that make us unique — ensure that we will not always agree with one other individual, let alone a pack.  John Stuart Mill famously wrote about the Tyranny of the Majority, one of the more challenging aspects of democracy, where a single brave voice is sometimes necessary to dissent from common agreement and be willing to be right, however unpopular.

And there you have it, the individual in conflict who has to win support, yet be true to self or risk critique of being a phony.  That individual — whether President Obama, Governor Romney, Vice President Biden, or Representative Ryan — knows most of all that their greatest strengths are surely their greatest weaknesses.  As I have watched them in the debates, well-prepared but under extreme pressure, I have seem them dart in real-time between polar opposites, showing us who they are and what they think, but attempting to course correct for acceptable balance where too much polarity will ensure ultimate failure.  Here’s a short list of what I am seeing push and pull for the proper outcome, like so many other people I know in uncountable contexts:

Confidence vs. Humility.

Courage vs. Recklessness.

Introspection vs. Salesmanship.

Creativity vs. Predictability.

Flexibility vs. Resolve.

Idealism vs. Realism.

Humor vs. Gravitas.

Accountability vs. Deniability.

Talking vs. Listening.

Watching vs. Acting.

Thinking vs. Doing.

Responsiveness vs. Perspective.

Candor vs. Diplomacy.

Attributes as well as ideas always create balancing acts, with true and effective balance so rare, so hard to find.  Perhaps that’s why it is easy to point the finger at our elected officials with accusations of their flip-flopping and being two-faced.  They try to be themselves, yet they try to appeal to those who might find them objectionable — just like the rest of us in our working and non-working interactions.

No one wants to elect or work for a hypocrite or a say-anything, do-anything, be-anything competitor.  Yet maybe we are missing some of the point, that there are those among us who can find balance, slide across the middle and back again, and master the manner of dialing back some of their strengths while bolstering their weaknesses as one and the same act.  Tough to even think about, but where you see a true winner, it is possible you may be seeing someone so in touch with their diverse attributes that they cause you to embrace the unfamiliar and unsuspecting in ways you hadn’t imagined.  Call that person a master politician — or someone who knows how to lead by bridging the resistance of those around them and inspiring the imagination that builds a following.

What are some of the Yin-Yang qualities that you observe in the candidates, good and bad?  In those with whom you work?  In yourself?  Please share them, let’s see what the list looks like when we build it together as recognition, with a keen focus on impact, implication, and outcome.  Where style is content, look for the bridge to consistency and authenticity.


8 thoughts on “Those Thin Blurred Lines

  1. Ken. You keep getting better and better. Suggest you read Sr Bill Bradley’s newest book. “WeCan All Do Better”. I think he has most of it right. Irv


  2. Very thought-provoking Ken, thanks. We do have to remember though that sometimes a persona that is “extremely together”…balanced, relaxed, glib… is a facade. That is a core attribute used by many master salespeople (another approach is the consultative sell). To be overly focused on this packaging can also lead people down the garden path. In in the end we have to make judgements, hopefully discerning ones.


    • You are quite right, Ron — which is why consistency and authenticity are so critical. We are who we are, not who we present ourselves to be. Elections annoy a lot of people because they go on so long, but it’s that long window that forces individuals to reveal what we truly believe and how that predicts future action. Same in business, same in most contexts. As individuals come to understand their greatest strengths are their greatest weaknesses, the choice of authenticity is theirs alone.


  3. Outstanding article, Ken. We need more leaders like you. Here are some Yin-Yang items to add to your list: traditional vs. progressive, empathetic vs. manipulative, thinker vs. emoter, majority rule vs. minority rights.


  4. The one I struggle with is confidence vs arrogance. No one likes arrogance and yet it seems that a leader has to have a certain amount to have had the drive to become a leader. They have to believe in themselves and that they have the ability/right to lead a group but they can’t think that they know better than everyone else about everything. Then there is what they actually think and what they portray i.e. perception vs reality. Some people project arrogance as a cover up for their insecurities/lack of expertise and some people pretend not to be arrogant when really they are. Either way, the balance seems to be very delicate and make a difference about how people will view them.


    • A great illustration, Petrina, and it’s a tough one. I don’t think there are many who admire arrogance, yet we all likely admire appropriate levels of confidence in a leader. Keeping that in balance is one key way a good leader can build trust, consensus, and a strong following.


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