The Yin and Yang of Organizations


Why does any organization seem to be caught in an endless cycle of success and failure? Why do they lose their purpose, then reinvent themselves?

Yang is the clear sword, the strike, the attack energy the pinpoint focus. Yang is the sunlight on the mountain top. Yin is the water that creates the shape of the cup, the force of the outgoing tide, the rush of the current. Yin is the shadowed valley. You can’t have one without the other.

In organizations, Yang is the organization fit for a mission. The organization that constantly adapts to realize its purpose, and expects its members to do no less. An extreme Yang organization would be a commando force: nothing else counts but the mission, and  it’s OK to lose people on the way.

Yin is the institution, it’s only purpose is to maintain itself as it is. It will change anything and anything so that nothing changes, no procedures, processes or territories. It will protect its people at all costs against customers, suppliers or technologies.

Too much Yang, and you create pushback – most people need a stable place to work and can’t cope with the endless demands of the mission, the mission, the mission. Too much Yin and you create a nest for incompetence, office politics and backstabbing were people are unhappy from lack of meaning and hope for advancement.

Some leaders are Yang leaders, sacrificing the welfare of their troops to creating war machines, and transforming their organizations as they go. When they’re good at it, they create a trust environment in which every one feels that they achieve more than they ever dreamed they could, even if the pace is harsh and the leader demanding.

Some leaders are Yin leaders and protect what is at all costs, defect criticism, justify and rationalize. They create stolid, inward looking organizations where outsiders are the enemy and all that matters are internal office politics and looking good no matter what. These organizations can be much longer lasting than one would think precisely because of their determination to blame everything else for their own mishaps.

Yang leaders hire Yang managers, which creates room for the next generation to Yin managers to join in the gaps created. Yin leaders promote Yin managers, which offers opportunities for Yang managers eventually to make their mark.

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Success, of course, lies at the cusp of the eternal imbalance between Yang and Yin. Too much Yang, too many risks, too demanding on people’s internal resources, too fast a pace. Too much Yin, stagnation, misery and eventually something nasty happens.

In the Western world, I find that one of our greatest difficulties is to think in terms of balances – we think in ones, not one-and-two. We’re strong. Then weak. It’s hard to learn to be both. But this is not a Western world any longer. We, also, need to learn to think differently.

Yes, there is a clarity and power in Yang. But, just as there is beauty in the silence and the quiet of the night, there is deep strength in Yin as well. Yes, we like Yang revolutionaries (nothing to do with male and female, women choose Yang just as men choose Yin), but revolutions exhaust themselves where stable institutions endure through sheer Yin and compromise.

Yin and Yang. Yang and Yin. In our daily lives at work.


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