All or nothing

All or nothing

One day, a maths teacher wrote the table of 9 on the white board as below:

1 X 9=96 X 9=54
2 X 9=187 X 9=63
3 X 9=278 X 9=72
4 X 9=369 X 9=81
5 X 9=4510 X 9=80
Table of 9 written by the teacher

As soon as he finished writing the table, his students started to laugh and whisper: “Our teacher doesn’t know the table of 9; he cannot teach us maths”.

He quietly asked what the matter was.

You are wrong – they replied – 9X10 is 90. You wrote 80.

So what you are telling me is that in 10 lines 1 line is wrong and the rest, they are correct. And that only by doing everything right I can teach you maths. Is that right?

At this point, the students remained silent. Maybe there were not such mistake but an important lesson there.

The search for perfection

At times in our lives, we got trapped in this all or nothing false dichotomy: we are either successful or worthless; our life is wonderful or miserable; we have the perfect team, or we’d prefer to fly solo.

This all or nothing thinking usually comes with a “should” statement. We feel that things should be perfect, and anything different will fulfil our expectations. Therefore, we focus on our shortcomings, bad decisions, mistakes and failures. And, of course, we always try to find out others’ mistakes and faults, wasting a lot of valuable time in the process.

The question is: are your expectations realistic?

It’s great to have high standards, and at the same time they need to be realistic. Otherwise, every experience will be bad for you. Because even when the highest standards are met, you could find something to improve. An outcome less that 100% equals 0%?

Expanding our perspective

The beauty of expanding this all or nothing thinking is that you don’t have to perfect. You can explore the scale of greys, develop a growth mindset and see what happens without damage your identity (what you are).

Shaping your full identity by being perfect has many limitations. When you’re a leader, these limitations affect also on what your team believes, how they behave and how they learn.

When you frame your views into this all or nothing thinking, you are limiting the possibilities for your team. The problem is not getting there, but thinking that if they cannot do whatever perfectly, they shouldn’t do it at all.

What happens then with one of the main leader’s role of making others grow? How could you possibly develop the enough amount of trust within the team to risk, fail and learn? How do you see the conflict – as a display of “not everything is perfect here” – and how your team solves it?

It is not only that this all or nothing thinking is nothing but useless for you. It prevents your team to grow and reach its highest point of contribution.