The majority of us are trapped in the deceptive mindset of either/or. Everything and everyone in the world is either good or bad. Strong or weak. Smart or dumb. Happy or sad. Humble or ambitious. 0 or 1.
The truth is much more nuanced, and often times, it’s not in the two “opposite” words. It’s the opposite of the middle word — “or.”
The best impact entrepreneurs I’ve ever met are not OR people, but AND people. They are walking paradoxes. They have a heart for impact AND a mind for business. They are equally passionate about profit AND purpose. They are tough as nails AND tender as a fresh sprout.
Also, they are usually growing both dimensions. They are simultaneously becoming more tough and more tender, and becoming wiser at wielding both. They are getting better at maximizing both profit and purpose. They are working on emotional, compelling stories of impact just as much as refining a cold-blooded killer strategy.
In fact, a team of brilliant people proved this empirically. Based on 40 years of data studying 1,000+ companies, Jim Collins (in Good to Great) boiled down the 11 most effective leaders in business history as “Level 5” Leaders. Their defining characteristic had nothing to do with their intelligence or charisma or connections. In fact, many leaders were as boring as a doorknob. Some were downright awkward. However, they embrace AND in two surprising ways:
- They have deep personal humility AND sky-high ambition (for the organization). Their fierceness, audacity, unwavering willpower for the company was only matched by their immense modesty and deflection of any attention.
- They relentlessly seek out the brutal truth AND retain absolute faith they will prevail. They want the truth and know they can handle even the worst truth. So bring it on. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t talk around it. Name it fully. And let’s figure it out together.
We at Kinyungu Ventures are striving to be Level 5 Leaders and to be an AND company. Our world is filled with AND tensions. We operate in a market with great challenges AND great opportunities. Our story is important AND so is our strategy. We often talk about how to be “as shrewd as snakes AND as innocent as doves.” We are building deep relationships within a complementary team by being able to agree well AND to disagree even better. We are grateful for where we are today AND striving towards where we want to go tomorrow. We seek to build a world-class culture/team AND be awesome parents, spouses, siblings, children, uncles/aunts, friends to the people who matter most to us.
Don’t be fooled by the false dichotomy of the powerful OR. However, don’t be fooled on the opposite side.
The biggest danger of AND is using it to justify fuzzy thinking.
Sometimes, we have two paths ahead of us, and the wise AND leader chooses one. In some situations, choosing AND spreads resources too thin, makes a simple situation more complicated, and is the beginning of the end. Sometimes, choosing AND is simply a lack of courage. Wisdom is knowing the difference between AND decisions and OR decisions.
We are looking for other AND leaders to join us on this journey. Do you seek to be a Level 5 leader?
- Good to Great – this book will be read 25 years from now, and it will still ring true.
- Jim Collins on whether you can develop into a Level 5 Leader – Mostly likely, yes. Looking for a Level 5 leader? “Look for situations where extraordinary results exist, but where no individual steps forth to claim excess credit.”
- Strategy + Business: The Power of And – sometimes, simply replacing “but” with “and” in your language can create a dramatic effect.