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The Importance of a Closed Fist and an Open Hand

I imagine most of you have been on some long-term project, maybe months - maybe years. If not a project, maybe a product launch or start-up business that spanned a significant block of time and took many of your heart beats.

For us, that had been the journey of getting our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, from inception to publication. At one point, I would have called it a marathon - then an ultra-marathon - but now I see it was a lot more like a triathlon, an IronMan triathlon!

There are two aspects of this journey that seem worth sharing.

Let’s Talk About the Marathon (or Triathlon) Effect First

We teach the marathon effect when we are working with organizations going through change.

Leaders are often like the elite runners in a marathon. They are out front of the rest of people or organization. When I ran in a marathon, by the time I got across the starting line (22 minutes into the race) - those elite runners had already covered many miles!

This creates a challenge when it comes to a business or project marathon. Unlike elite runners in a marathon, leaders in organizations and teams need to be aware of the people coming behind them and keep communicating the message of why, how, when and who -- even if from their perspective they may be on to the next thing.

For us, we had been working on this book for almost three years. We are actually working on our next book. However, most of you know little or nothing about our current book and beyond our regular readers, have yet to cross the start line.

Towards the end of the process, I was tired of reading over the edits and making changes. But frankly, I needed to stay focused and remember most of our readers have not even started the race.

The there’s the other key lesson learned.

Closed Fist Versus Open Hand

When we were speaking at The Athena Conference, we got the chance to listen to many fabulous women leaders speak. One was, Liz Forkin Bohannon, Co-CEO of Sseko Designs. She spoke about creating social change and business success with her company Sseko Designs. She shared her journey and what she called, “A closed fist versus open hand.” The concept really spoke to us!

When you are going into a strategic meeting or a brainstorming session it is critical to get clear going in what is in your ‘closed fist,’ - meaning what is nonnegotiable. These are the things that you do not want to change – your core purpose, core values, or anchors related to your business or project. These values steer the ship.

The open hand is what is up for discussion and change. This often includes what is done and how.

The key is not to make everything closed fist. One mantra Liz would say going into a meeting is, “nothing’s precious.”

In the case of our book, the pieces that were in our closed fist were our team-relationship model and our three key values of our writing style: simple, practical and relatable. Everything else was in the open hand.

Let me just say, this process was NOT easy. I often thought pieces I had written were quite precious. The editor’s notes and comments, even CrisMarie’s, were at times very hard to consider.

However, the writing itself needed to be open hand. So did the illustrations, the lay-out, even the cover design and title! I wrestled to not close my fist many times along the way.

We also had various things happen on the journey. At one point we had a publisher, and then we didn’t. I would have said having a publisher was closed fist.

But no - it wasn’t, and I am grateful for the willingness to let go and really get clear about what was core, what was closed fist, and what was open for improvements and the possibility of change.

In business, and as leaders, this can be a very critical piece of setting strategy for moving your vision forward.

Leaders who put too much into closed fist, fail. Yet true leaders who have nothing as core in their closed fist will fail as well.

The Key:

Know your what’s most important and don’t make how you get there too precious.

In Summary

Our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, is out now. Indeed, it took longer than we thought. However, the many lessons learned on the journey were worth it.

I will say - this business book marathon has been a helluva a lot harder than running one!

Think about what marathon you are working on: Where are you on the path - out front, still waiting to cross the starting line? Be clear about who else is running with you - your team, your customers, and where are they in the race.

Finally, know what is in your closed fist and approach your strategy and project team meeting with an open hand for everything else.

Take care,


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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