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Fall 2023 Course

Polarities: Harnessing the Power of Opposites to Lead Effectively

Prerequisite: Students may enroll in this course if they have completed any of the following offerings: Negotiation Workshop; Leadership Fundamentals; Adaptive Leadership; Legal Innovation through Design Thinking; or Applying Adaptive Leadership to Thrive and Lead Change during Uncertain Times; or students may receive permission from the instructor to waive the prerequisite.

Exam Type: No Exam

Lawyers must be skilled at advocacy and inquiry. We should tell clients the candid truth and deliver this message diplomatically. We have a duty to respect the law and a calling to evolve it.

We all face situations where our choices feel diametrically opposed, yet neither option is sufficient on its own. For example, should I prioritize my own needs or the needs of others? As a leader, is it more important to focus on action or reflection? Should I press for change, or keep things stable? Is it better for society to value justice or mercy?

This juxtaposition of opposites tricks us into thinking we must choose one Or the other – and sometimes that is true. But the examples above are a special type of opposites, called Polarities. With Polarities, the opposites are interdependent, meaning that the path to success requires us to pursue Both. Some examples of Polarities are simple: Our bodies require both Rest and Activity. Our lungs must inhale and exhale. As for the more nuanced examples of polarities above: We should focus on our own needs and the needs of others; effective leaders take action and spend time in reflection; it is useful to promote change and maintain a stable core; and, to function properly, societies should honor the principles of justice and mercy.

The instinct to “choose” isn’t our fault. In fact, it has been key to our survival. The human brain evolved to help us make decisions quickly. The impulse to make Either/Or choices serves us when faced with a dilemma, but it is limiting when faced with a Polarity. Polarities are all around us. Being able to see and leverage them is a critically important leadership skill.

What you will learn and experience:

In this interactive seminar, we will work as a class, in small groups, and individually to:

  • Understand and apply the Polarities framework to challenges of Self, Leadership, and Society.
  • Learn how to identify, map, and navigate core polarities and apply this new awareness in our own lives, organizations, and the larger world around us.
  • Take the Key Polarity Indicator, an assessment that provides customized insight into your preferences for certain opposites.
  • Have the opportunity for a one-hour, confidential debrief session with the Professor to unpack the results of your KPI and make an action plan forward.
  • Build the capacity to identify and manage conflicting values with curiosity and respect.

The result of this course will be enhanced leadership potential, professional maturity, and a greater ability to unlock the increasingly complex world that awaits after graduation.

Students should expect approximately 60-90 minutes per week on class reading, and 60-90 minutes per week on short reflection papers (2-3 pages) and / or polarities mapping exercises. At the end of the course, there will be a final paper regarding key learnings from the course (approximately 10 pages). Over the course of the semester, including the final paper, students will submit a total of 15-20 pages of written work product.

Note: This course will meet over 8 sessions, beginning on September 28 (after the conclusion of TAW).