University News

New Leadership Program Strengthens Well-Being through Polarities

By: Whitney Hopler, Communications Manager, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being

Our center has partnered with Polarity Partnerships to offer a new leadership program to professionals. Polarity Thinking will empower people to deal successfully with polarities – opposing forces that create tension in complex situations.

“Polarity thinking and our work together as partners contributes to advancing well-being for leaders, teams, and organizational systems,” said Cliff Kayser, Polarity Thinking Instructor. “The many different dimensions of effective leadership – from communication to change management – all include polarities. You can learn one approach through this program and it can apply across the board to whatever decisions you face as a leader. Polarity thinking has versatility and scalability and measurability to it that you can use in any situation.”

Barry Johnson, Founding Partner and Chairman of Polarity Partnerships, said he is excited about this new program adding to our center’s well-being work. “I think it is a wonderful initiative and that polarity thinking could be a very supportive, integral part of it,” said Johnson, who created the Polarity Maps and Principles. “Our mission, to enhance our quality of life on the planet by supplementing ‘or’ thinking with ‘and’ thinking, fits exactly with the advancement of well-being. From my perspective, ‘well-being’ and ‘quality of life’ are different ways to articulate the same vision.”

Leveraging the Power of Polarity Thinking certification, Kayser said, “includes a one-year membership to the Polarity Resource Portal, which includes videos, articles, and the public library of Polarity Maps. Participants learn how to create, administer, and debrief assessments for up to eight polarities as a time using the Polarity Assessment. A “My Polarity Maps” area allows you to edit and store your favorite and most frequently used Polarity Maps. Participants also receive a pre-publication version of Barry Johnson’s upcoming book, AND: How to Leverage Polarity/Paradox/Dilemma.”

The program can benefit individuals and organizations alike, said Kayser. “Our partnership will support individuals, teams, and organization systems to increase the speed, attainability and sustainability of well-being and being a well-being university and thriving together. The program provides individual level certification for those in the coaching or organization development consulting and internal Polarity Certification programs for organizations to use for: leadership, team, and organization development (strategy, innovation, culture, systems, change, etc.).”

Joy Goldman, founding partner of the company SixSEED Partners, said participating in the program has helped her coach healthcare industry leaders. “I used paradox and polarity examples in practically every conversation I have with a client. So often, they are wrestling with tensions that their strong habit of problem-solving can’t sustainably address. For example, within healthcare, they struggle with their purpose (mission) of providing quality care, and their need to operate as a business (margin). Heated arguments ensue as ‘administrators’ and clinicians argue their own perspective. Polarity language and frameworks helps them to depersonalize the issues and see the interconnectedness of the tensions. The same applies with safety and risk/ continuity and transformation. It’s not that people don’t want to innovate. They just don’t want to innovate at the expense of preserving long held values or structures that provide safety within their environment.  … Our goal is to leverage the upside of both tensions, and to be able to see our aversion (very often our shadow from an individual preference perspective) in a way that normalizes a downside, so that we can approach a thorny, complex issue with curiosity instead of judgment.”

Leadership speaker, trainer, and author Chalmers Brothers said earning his Polarity Thinkingcertification inspired him to make development his business in key ways. “For the past 33 years, I have worked as a consultant (first) and then certified coach/training program leader within organizations of all sizes and shapes. I have developed a multi-module, cohort-based program called SOAR, which stands for Success through Observer – Action – Results. This program, designed for leaders, teams and employees, is based on a new way of understanding the power of language and conversations: that is, that language and conversations are primary generative and creative, rather than passive and descriptive.”

Once he obtained the program certification, he recalled, “it was clear to me that a module focusing on polarities and polarity thinking would be an excellent, value-added addition to the program – and that’s exactly what I did. … I’ve been able to create a half-day session within my larger program that has proven to be extremely powerful and beneficial to my clients. If leaders get paid to have effective conversations – as I claim they do – then the Polarity Map provides a “road map” for leaders to engage in structured conversations with multiple stakeholders around issues of primary importance. It offers a new way of thinking – especially around leadership and organizational performance/priorities – and virtually all of my clients have found it to be immediately valuable and intuitive. In my work, I focus a great deal on self-awareness as the starting point for purposeful, meaningful improvement in any domains. Polarity thinking and Polarity Maps have helped my clients see what they didn’t see before, and in doing so, open avenues for them to make sustained improvements in ways that were literally ‘off their radar’ prior to this learning.”

Brothers said he encourages anyone interested in deepening their own degree of self-awareness to explore the Polarity Thinking certification. “The acquisition of these new distinctions opens levels of awareness that many of us had intuited, but hadn’t been able to find a vocabulary for, or hadn’t been able to articulate so clearly. Polarity Maps are indeed a type of ‘wisdom organizer,’ enabling groups of intelligent people to broaden what they are able to see, and expand what they are able to value. More and more, I believe that success in organizations – and societies, for that matter – now and in the future requires that we be able to employ ‘both/and’ thinking as well as ‘either/or’ problem solving. The adaptive challenges we all face, in our professional and personal lives, are simply part of the increasingly diverse landscape of the 21st century. In a world as diverse as ours – and in organizations as multifaceted and multicultural as ours – we need frameworks and tools that can help us see the value in another perspective, as well as the inherent downside limitations of our own. To me, polarity thinking and Polarity Maps are incredibly valuable for enabling new and powerful conversations that lead to sustainable improvements in our organizations, our societies, our relationships and our lives as individual human beings.”

In order to experience well-being in a workplace together, people need to learn how to manage polarities well, said Kayser. “Thriving together mandates we pay attention to certain interdependencies such as: self and other; individual rights and communal obligations; challenge (justice) and supporting (mercy); and freedom/diversity and equity/commonality – to name a few!” He added, “To thrive together requires solving problems using ‘or’ thinking and leveraging polarities using “and” thinking. ‘Or’ thinking alone is not up to the task for addressing the complexities inherent to human systems.”