Monday, June 21, 2010

Is your "all or nothing" thinking holding you back?

Rest assured. We all have been known to take things to the extremes of "all or nothing."

Words like always and never are common when you fall into the trap of "all or nothing" thinking.

There is evidence of this type of thinking in all aspects of our lives. Here are a few examples on how this thinking may sound in your head:
"I was passed up for that promotion, I will never make it in this company."

"We didn't go on vacation again this year, we never do anything."

"My boss is so insensitive, she always ignores my input."

"I told them what to do, but they never get it right."

At the foundation of "all or nothing" thinking is fear. But as a result of this thinking, we usually don't feel the fear; instead we usually feel anger or blame.

However, fear doesn't stop there. It causes us to believe that our power to solve these problems is also "all or nothing." As a result you believe that you either have the power (and you plan to use it over someone else) or you don't (and are resentful).

Both extremes (you over-use power or you under-use it) can immobilize you and rob you of getting the results that you want or
need in your life, at home or at work.

The truth about power is that it is NOT a zero sum game:
When you believe someone else has power, you don't need to give yours away.
When you believe you have power, you don't need to take it from someone else.
Power is not about "all or nothing," however fear can trip us up into believing that it is.

Leaders in the face of difficult times need to be aware of this "all or nothing thinking" that is fueled by fear.

Fear is rampant during difficult times and not always easy to confront, causing extremes to surface and power struggles to endure. Leaders are more apt to exert excessive power or to relinquish it too easily during these trying times.

What extreme pole are you taking? Are you blaming others for your situation? Or, are you trying to fix it for everyone?

In the McKinsey Quarterly, Derek Dean has an interesting article "A CEO's Guide to Reenergizing the Senior Team" which outlines ways in which leaders can begin to work through fear and denial in order to achieve better results.

If you find that you are in a power struggle or a blaming game, try using some of the following tips to regain the power balance:

1. Take the extreme words out of your thinking. Stay alert to when you use words like "never" and "always" to describe others' actions or your beliefs.

2. Take accountability. Blaming others is a clear sign that your extreme thinking has led you to avoid accountability. When you take accountability and move away from blaming, you can regain your power over the situation.

3. Give accountability. Taking on someone else's responsibility for a problem doesn't solve it. Examine your extreme thinking as it relates to you having all of the answers. By giving accountability you enable and empower others.

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