Opposites Attract

While playing with some magnets, my granddaughter was fascinated by how they leapt together when turned one way yet pushed each other away when turned around. I must admit, I love magnets, too. What she was observing was the magnetic dipole in action.

Magnetic poles (where the magnetic field enters or exits an object) always appear in pairs of equal but opposite forces. The poles are often labeled north and south. The same forces (poles) repel each other while the opposite forces attract each other.

In a sermon he gave in 1959, Dr. M. L. King said, “Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony.” He acknowledges in the sermon that he was quoting a French philosopher. This was probably Blaise Pascal who said, “No one is strong unless they bear within their character antitheses strongly marked.”

What is being described here is opposites held in balance. Jesus, who certainly predates Pascal and King, said we were to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” King’s sermon describes a state of being where one has a tough mind and a tender heart. As leaders, if we can achieve this state, the culture we propagate will be healthy and attractive.

There are many things we need to balance as leaders. Among those are idealism vs realism, activism vs passivity, and self-assertion vs humility.

How we see the world matters. Idealism sees the world as a perfect future possibility where realism sees the world as it currently is and historically has been. Idealism is better suited to developing a vision statement, innovating for a future state, and, in some cases, getting through difficulty by anticipating better things to come. Realism creates practical, actionable steps to achieve an enhanced future state.

It is critical for a leader to be able to keep one foot in each world view. Keeping the potential “perfect” future in view while supporting strategically achievable plans to get there helps the team to believe they can get there and acknowledges the very real obstacles on the way.

How we respond to the world matters. Passivity accepts what happens without resistance where activism aggressively campaigns for change. There are times when it is appropriate to accept a situation—surrender to it, even. Even if action becomes necessary, the ability to operate from a place of acceptance reduces the impact of emotions on our actions. There are also situations where decisive action is the appropriate response.

Leaders often feel an obligation to fix everything. My spiritual mentor often reminds me that I have my job, other people have their jobs, and God has His job. I get in trouble when I am trying to do God’s and other people’s jobs. For me, surrendering often just means internally acknowledging that while I may be responsible, I am rarely in control.

How we see ourselves matters the most. The most important characteristic of a leader is humility. The power that accompanies leadership demands a willingness to admit when we are wrong and the ability to be teachable, otherwise we become unreasonable tyrants. However, leaders can’t be doormats. A leader that is unwilling or incapable of asserting themself is not a leader.

From a humble posture, it is possible to assert our self and our position without disrespecting or devaluing the people we are called to serve. The greatest power a leader has is the power to notice other people by listening to be impacted. The second greatest power a leader has is to admit when they make a mistake.

If you are leading and no one is following, you are just out for a walk. For people to be attracted to our leadership and the resulting culture, we must be capable of holding what seem to be opposites, in harmony. Like the magnets my granddaughter was playing with, the opposites above are just the two sides of the same internal force. Strong leaders recognize that those opposites, present in balance, are attractive, and they are The Bison Way.