Polarity Thinking Framework

Polarity Thinking, a term coined by Barry Johnson, describes situations where there is truth and wisdom on more than one side of an issue; each side is incomplete without the wisdom and input of the other.

Think of how often we fight about the “right” way to organize, when in fact we need some of both. It isn’t either/or but both/and for things such as:

  • Top-down AND Bottom-up Leadership
  • Individual AND Team
  • Centralization AND Decentralization
  • Loose AND Tight Leadership
  • Continuity AND Change

When we get entrenched on one side or the other, both sides lose. For example, we over-focus on rewarding individuals to the neglect of teams and, suddenly, no one is collaborating. So we swing toward teamwork and, suddenly, individuals aren’t as motivated to go beyond assigned roles and goals.

As the Center for Creative Leadership puts it, “To be successful in today’s environment, leaders must leverage the value of each, rather than viewing them as “either/or.”

I use this tool in all contexts, whether it’s coaching, consulting, or teaching a workshop. Education-based participants receive a copy of my book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in Our Schools as part of the course materials.

Visit the Conflict Resolution page to learn more about how I leverage this framework to help you.

PACT (Polarity Assessment for Continuity and Transformation) Process
Are you in need of real-time, useful data that can tell you the views of different stakeholders toward initiatives such as Common Core implementation, teacher evaluation processes, helping students take responsibility and other key issues? Contact me to see how the PACT Process can help you.


From Personality Typology to Polarity Thinking with Dr. Jane Kise

From Personality Typing to Polarity Thinking, Dr. Jane Kise shares her insights on how leaders can be more intentional, systemic, and practical in their work.