The Flip-Side of Our Natures

The expression flip-side of the coin as applied to this article refers to the positive as well as negative sides of our personalities as leaders.

My grandson recently bought a bronze coin at one of the tourist shops in the Kruger National Park that portrayed a YES on the one side and a NO on the other. The possession of the coin provides some interesting scenarios between children and their parents. For example, our grandchild was told by his father to leave the TV and have a shower. He promptly flipped his coin to see if ‘destiny’ (or something like that!) gave him justification not to have his shower. The coin is now relegated to be part of his toy collection.  

The coin provides a good illustration of the flip-sided nature of humankind. We all have a tendency to slip into positive or negative moods and it often happens as suddenly as a flipped coin.

The following are key principles I have learned after years of pondering, practical experience and research as a parent and leadership consultant:

  1. Both our negative as well as our positive actions in life are manifestations of the same core attributes that drive us in the first place. In other words, when I act negatively in a situation I am simply manifesting a ‘negative’ version of the same personality attributes that have served me positively in the past. The positive side of our leadership personality may manifest in positive attributes such as tenacity to follow good values, faith in self and others around us, and faith in universal principles. The negative flip-side may manifest as stubbornness, pride, anger and emotional outbursts. Both sides of the flipped coin are from the same source attributes.
  2. Negative expectation moods are deceptive to say the least. They deceive us into thinking that the only valid reality in life is being experienced while we are in a negative expectation mood. Positive feelings seem to be a vague mist on a distant shore. When we manage to work through our negative mood, we invariably find that the so-called anxious realities felt during our negative mood are gross exaggerations and of minor importance in the context of more important issues and values.
  3. The flip-side illustration helps us to imagine the significance of realising that we do not become a ‘different person’ when we slip into the harsh emotional world of negative moods. It simply feels that way, as if we are another person as opposed to our positive side. This is due to the power of the human mind and heart to perceive a negative perception as true reality. Negative expectation moods cause us to enter a world of justification and rationalisation, of blame, of dislike and even hatred.
  4. I find personally that it is significantly helpful to realise that my negative feelings are a temporary blotch on my normally positive nature. It helps considerably to realise, even when I am being caught up in negative expectations in a situation that really looks and feels painful and even disastrous, that I am still the same positive person after all. I find then that I am less inclined to rationalise my negative feelings. I then tend to get to work to get out of the negative mood that wants to pull me back into the mud.
  5. Recognising the triggers. Leaders should learn to recognise negative triggers. They may differ from person to person but they tend to be the same triggers that succeed in flipping our coins to the negative side. I grew up in a large and generally happy family. We were not allowed to bicker and fight, but sometimes we heard the complaint across the large dining table: ‘Dad, he [or she) is looking at me!’ A look, gesture or body language can certainly trigger negative expectations.
  6. We often feel as if we are two persons – a positive person as well as a negative person. This is simply not the truth. The best leaders will not allow themselves to be glued to the dangerous negative banner.
  7. Strong positive strengths can easily manifest as harmful negative actions. Think for a moment of strong willed leaders around you who are generally a positive force for good, but who can on occasion slip into destructive angry moods and burn bridges behind them. On many occasions the bridges we burn are in fact the same bridges that we built with positive zeal and tenacity.
  8. Whether we act positively or negatively, it is the same basic attributes of character and talents that are either harnessed to serve positive values or swept away in negative moods to destroy and to justify our negative actions. Very few of us have outgrown our childish moods. Outside stimuli can so easily trigger a negative surge in us.  

Two kinds of negative flip coin feelings        

All of us experience negative feelings. This is an essential part of life as we know it. From a leadership development point of view, we need to recognise two kinds of negative feelings.  

  1. The first kind is that of negative expectations. We come across a thousand situations on a daily basis that may trigger negative expectations in us. Negative expectations may be defined as feelings of possible negative or unhappy consequences flowing from the situation we find us in. For example, our boss walks into the office and he has a certain atmosphere of irritation or even anger about him. A typical negative expectation may hit us: ’What have I done wrong?’ This is quite normal. It happens to all of us. Normally we will work through these negative expectations as the situation evolves. Good leaders perceive these feelings as part of the positive movement process.
  2. The second kind of negative feeling may be called negative aspirations. This occurs when our negative expectations evolve into negative aspirations and we are actually committed to walk the negative route in terms of that situation or person. For example, the scenario mentioned in the above paragraph of the boss entering the office may be further triggered into a stubborn resentment against the boss. This happens far too many times in our society and is the cause of a thousand ailments. Negative aspirations are not easily corrected! They also in many cases lead inexorably to emotionally charged antagonism 

The fine edge of seamless leadership

The fine edge of good leadership is precisely in recognising how easily we can flip our coin into the negative mode and to do something at this point before it moves into the settled negative aspiration mode. In common life we use terms such as humility, patience, emotional maturity, respect, listening and friendliness to describe the ability to recognise our possible weakness at the early phase of the negative process.  

When we are subject to quick irritations, impatience, doubts, or anger we should recognise these as signs of our negative flip side kicking in.

Good leaders always trust in tried and tested processes when confronted with possible negative expectations. This is the foundation of their leadership confidence. It is not ego based, but process based.

This article appeared in:

The Workplace


Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

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