The company I was working for announced their big vision – to be the bank with the human touch. Words like empathetic, intuitive, and people-first were the values they declared as the way forward to grow market share, engage employees, attract top talent, and deliver exceptional client experiences. I was elated as this vision and these values confirmed I was in the perfect place to bring my expertise and leadership. However, a few short weeks thereafter, as I peered over the second-floor balcony at our headquarter offices, there wasn’t anything human in sight. The company had launched their latest marketing campaign and offices were adorned with advertisements, posters, and brochures with images of phones, tablets, laptops, and computers. This digital display was anything but human. Interesting, I thought to myself, it was a mere two weeks that had passed since we got the human touch message. Did they forget to send a memo to marketing?
The year prior I had moved from a sales leadership role into human resources. I had been certified as a professional coach and knew that my career path was lining up to focus more on the people development part of the business, and this role was an opportunity to do just that. Two days on the job and I was attending a regional conference where all the leaders I’d be working with would be in attendance. It was an ideal place to meet and get to know my new team.
The conference speakers announced a break and many of the attendees scurried off to the lavatory while others took to the refreshment table. But a handful gathered at a round table within earshot of me. They were enjoying some small talk when one of the individuals said, “my wife used to do the shopping”, and one of our senior executives replied, “well, what else are they good for?” The group chuckled it off, like it was just another day at the office, and it was no biggie to disparage a fellow human this way. Now, I get it; this was said with no-ill intent, and it was a wise crack, a casual comment that nevertheless landed painfully in my heart. Here I was, in a new role with a new team, in a masculine dominated industry, and all I could think was, “What am I doing here? They won’t value anything I bring to the table!”
The very next day I was sitting in my car at the train station debating if I should hop on board or quit and head home. I hung up the phone with my husband where I had lamented about the job and questioned how I could possibly work with these people if they thought women only offered shopping skills. There was no way they’d take me seriously, and no way I’d be effective in my work. As I was clearing up black smears of mascara under my red-veined eyes I looked at myself in the mirror of my car visor. It was as if in that moment, the clouds opened and the sun shone through, (and it did, quite literally too). I got the message, “Get to work Finka, you’re here to bring feminine power.”
Over the coming weeks, I met with each of the leaders one by one. I got to know them as people who had needs and desires. In my own way, I had created a safe enough place that they felt comfortable to open up and share their personal struggles and leadership challenges. One leader broke down in tears as he shared his daughters battle with an eating disorder, while another exposed his vulnerability by telling me how hurt he was for not being seen and chosen for more senior level opportunities.
Now, I value masculine energy; I actually thrive in these environments. I love goals, am energized by action, and have a healthy and hearty competitive spirit. However, in this moment, what I needed to bring was connection, openness, vulnerability, empathy, and support — more of those feminine qualities that gave me notice that day at the train station. Thankfully, I listened, and didn’t run nor hide, and brought more of what was needed and what was missing in the environment I was in.
We live in a world of polarity. There is good and there is bad, light and dark, rich and poor, and love and fear. Two extremes that help us define the reality we experience. Without these polar indices, it’d be difficult to describe how you are doing; for instance, are you happy or sad today? It’d be challenging to measure whether you were at the top of the leaderboard or at the bottom. Just like a magnet, there are always two opposing forces that establish the juxtaposition of your life.
More than that, it’s because of this polarity that you have a life. We all strive to be happy, feel good, and achieve our best. But it’s because you know what being depressed, feeling bad, and not getting what you want is like, that you understand what it is to get all that good. For instance, if every day you woke up with zest and zeal, energy, and enthusiasm for your day, over time that experience would dull out, become boring and lifeless. The fact that you know what it is like to be at the bottom of the leaderboard, helps you understand and fully experience what it is like to be at the top. The contrast generates the value you give the experience.
Consider the principle of Yin and Yang from Chinese philosophy, that states that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. This principal dates as early as the third century BCE and is symbolized as a black (Yin) and white (Yang) circle, with each having a core of the other element represented by a small dot. It does not state that one is better than the other, rather they increase or decrease in proportion to each other and a correct balance between the two poles must be reached to achieve harmony. When there is too much Yin or too much Yang, chaos and adversity ensues. We get alerts every time these energy forces are imbalanced.
Today more than ever, you see these imbalances in action., be it in politics, inequality, economy, or morality. Polarizing makes it easy to divide and compartmentalize. The Covid-19 pandemic generated so much fear and uncertainty that it exacerbated the law of polarity because it made us feel psychologically safer to understand black and white, rather than grey. But today, you’ll notice the discord and tension amongst individuals, and low level of tolerance many have to opposing points of view. As a society, our Yin and Yang are so imbalanced that harmony seems inconceivable.
The law of polarity is not only active in the world at large: today’s workplaces have never been so challenged. Leaders are exhausted and burnt out, employee engagement is at all time lows, work accommodation preferences make it difficult to attract and retain employees, while the cost of doing business has gone up compelling companies frantically to cut costs to remain profitable.
The proposition I put before you is this: what if these challenges and hardships are here today so that you can contribute more of the opposite to bring things into balance? What if this contradictory environment is set up so perfectly, that it is an invitation for you to bring more Yin or Yang energy to a situation to create harmony? What if this is the ideal moment for you to bring exactly what your leadership, the workplace, and world at large needs to create a better place for all of us?
The HR role I was in was in an environment skewed with masculine energy. As a result, the team was highly competitive, antagonistic towards each other, and worked in silos rather than as a collaborative team. They had way too much Yang energy resulting in excessive aggressive, egotistical, and dominate behaviours. When masculine energy is in balance, it is beautiful as it brings ambitions and ideas to life and establishes strong and safe workplaces. When I chose to stay, to bring more Yin energy, it helped the team re-connect to their hearts, intentions and to each other. As a result, it brought more balance to the team.
I also believe that every time you set an intention or goal, you initiate an invitation for the opposite to come forth. It’s as though the opposite of what you want gets activated, so that you must work harder to create the very thing you want. Personally, each time I’ve set out to write a book, my life gets busier and more chaotic. It becomes even more, challenging for me to get one word written, let alone an entire book. It’s as if Life is asking, ‘Finka are you serious about this book? Is this really the most important thing to you right now?’ Then it throws a myriad obstacles in my way, to test maybe, although I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to choose the reality I want, the opposite of what is. Instead of a busy, disorganized, and chaotic mind I learn how to be focused, determined, and disciplined to get the project done. Sometimes I win and write, and sometimes I don’t and muddle my way through it. I know now that the obstacle isn’t saying ‘Finka, now is not the right time to write,’ nor, ‘it’s not a good idea to write.’ Rather it’s asking, ‘Finka, will you choose to make time to write?’
Think about a goal you’ve set for yourself. How about the time you decided to eat better or drink less, then suddenly your calendar got booked up with gatherings and parties, challenging you to stay true to that commitment. Or the time you said you wanted to strengthen your relationships by spending more time with your family and friends, when unexpectedly work demands increased taking the little time you already had away from your most important relationships. When you set a goal or desire, in that moment you are also inviting the exact opposite into your life, so you can be the thing you said you wanted to have in your reality.
This happens individually, organizationally, and collectively. The instant the bank set out a vision to be the bank with the human touch was when they invited the opposite into their reality. Hence, how marketing missed the memo. These two opposing forces, human versus digital, challenged each other to be expressed. The law of polarity is in action everywhere in your life, be it personal goals, relationships, or at work. Your success will be determined by how you catalyze the law of polarity to your advantage.
It’s over to you: how is the law of polarity showing up in your life and leadership today? What do you need to bring to create more balance in your life and leadership?
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