Yin/Yang Leadership: Seeking Balance

When I woke this morning, I laid in bed for a moment realizing the quieter start of our days and thought through the agenda for the hours ahead. I took a moment to figure out what day it was, marveling at the perception of time. Days are flying by, yet it feels like we’re standing still.

I was struck by a thought I had, and that it was the exact same thought I had the day before, and the day before that. It’s a thought that comes to me with such clarity, such simplicity, and urgently. “This is so weird.”

We will be going through our day without leaving the house (except to take another walk around the block ), without interacting with other people (except for our neighbors from an awkward distance across the sidewalk), and without physically connecting with our friends and family outside of our home. Now, more than ever, I am grateful for technology and video conferencing.

I wonder, when will I wake and say, ‘this is normal.’ Or not have any thought or judgment of the day at all. And what I’m learning is that it isn’t without the other experiences that I’m able to truly observe my current reality.

Without a sense of normalcy, I wouldn’t be able to see this current reality as weird. As I reflect on the changes and differences and losses of today, I can see more clearly all the things that I perceived as normal.

Throughout this pandemic, we have all been thrown off our daily routines and ways of interacting. My personal challenge, in all roles – mother, spouse, daughter, friend, and leader – has been how to help others to find a new sense of peace and balance. My personal grounding comes from my yoga practice – both physical and philosophical – and so I’m accustomed to borrowing from the philosophical symbol of Yin / Yang, and thus the leadership philosophy: Yin/Yang Leadership.


Yin Yang illustrated from the Tao Te Ching

When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created.

When people see things as good, evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low oppose each other.

Fore and aft follow each other.

~ from What is Yin Yang? by personaltao.com


A concept used in Taoism, originating in the 4th Century BC, emphasizes living in harmony.

A starting definition Yin/Yang: Two halves that together complete wholeness. Yin and yang are also the starting point for change. When something is whole, by definition, it’s unchanging and complete. So when you split something into two halves – yin/yang, it upsets the equilibrium of wholeness. Both halves are chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other.”

I hear examples of Yin/Yang in most every conversation I have lately. People are struggling with balancing resistance with acceptance, the concept of abundance with scarcity, with considering essential and non-essential. In many of these discussions, it feels as though people are trying to be on one side or the other, and that one side is better than another.

In this time of fear and uncertainty, it is paramount that leaders begin on a path of more balanced leadership. This concept has helped me respond in conversations where we are grappling with this sense of opposition. Yin / Yang gives us a model for considering when something is out of balance, and where to look to bring things back into balance. As one element increases, the other decreases. We need to fully understand the experience of one in order to understand how to move toward an experience of the other.

I am grateful to be in a position to have these conversations with my team, my clients, and colleagues, and I recognize my role in helping them appreciate the current experience, and gain a new, more comprehensive understanding of the experience they are longing for. When it comes to leadership, the concept of Yin/Yang is more practical than philosophical. During challenging times, leaders are in a position of helping others come to peace, and even fall in love with our current state, so that we can more clearly see, define, and find our way back to our previous or desired state.

For those leaders seeking balance, whether in their own life or with their teams, here are three things you can do now to successfully leverage both sides of the emotional spectrum:

3 Steps to Balance: Applying Yin/Yang Leadership

Assess and Accept. Listen for the emotions and experiences that your team is having today. Acknowledge that different or opposing feelings or experiences (Yin and Yang) can coexist. We are in a period of exceptional uncertainty, with new information and guidance coming at us daily. While we happen to be in the midst of a pandemic, this is a very common experience for those going through organizational change, such as a merger or a restructure. Allow people to share their experience as it is today, without judgment of whether it is good or bad. Pay attention to the words people are using, and how they are feeling. Acknowledge that both experiences are valid and that we can gain insights from each other to shape the path to the alternate perspective.

Recognize and Encourage. A core concept of Yin/Yang is one of movement. There is no status quo, and our experiences are not static. Help your team to recognize where they are each day, and how their mental and emotional state is continually shifting. This can be particularly helpful when someone is having a difficult time; encourage individuals to reflect on times when things were different.

Explore Possibilities. With a better understanding of the full range of experiences and emotions, we can gain more empathy for each member of the team. For example, when we are used to functioning from a mindset of abundance, but now we see experiences of scarcity, we are encouraged to look for and find different ways to meet a need. If you are finding your team is focused more on what is no longer available, begin a daily practice of appreciating those things that are now available to them. While the list may look different, simple acts such as these go a long way to building new pathways in the brain and helping build resilience during these challenging times.

Yin Yang Leadership

The yin-yang symbol (also known as the Tai Chi symbol) consists of a circle divided into two halves by a curved line. One half of the circle is black, typically representing the yin side; the other is white, for the yang side. A dot of each color is situated near the center of the other’s half. The two halves are thus intertwining across a spiral-like curve that splits the whole into semicircles, and the small dots represent the idea that both sides carry the seed of the other. ~ from The Meaning of Yin and Yang, By Jun Shan

When I reflect on the experiences of today and feel the urge to label it differently, I am inspired to look for ways that it is the same. In doing this, I’m able to see and appreciate the little things, be it the people who I still talk to over the course of life, every day, or the rituals I still get to do to get myself ready for the day, or the way the flowers continue to bloom on my walk each evening. In appreciating the duality of our experiences, we can now see the many possibilities for how I can move more fully into acceptance of this new environment, context, and way of operating.