Finding the Right Leadership Balance

I once had a boss I secretly nicknamed “TQ” which stood for “Twenty Questions.” The reason he earned that name is that every time we met to review the progress of the business he would ask me at least 20 questions about everything I was working on. He micromanaged every aspect of my responsibility and I hated it. It felt like he didn’t fully trust my decisions. He was way too involved.

On the other hand, I had a different boss who was completely disengaged. I rarely heard from him unless something went wrong and he never visited my location or met with my teams. He was aloof and disconnected. He had no idea about the daily challenges and successes of our operation. It felt like he didn’t care and that our team wasn’t important to the company.

Both leaders had taken their level of involvement to an extreme and, in each situation, it led to my frustration.

Therein lies the challenge of leadership, finding the right balance.

The quest for balance doesn’t just relate to leadership involvement either, it permeates every aspect of managing people. Think about these other leadership dimensions:

  • If a leader is too emotional, there is unnecessary drama in the office. If a leader is emotionless, the organization feels cold and callous.
  • If a leader is too optimistic, the company is overly aggressive and misses targets. If a leader is too pessimistic, the organization never pushes to new levels of performance.
  • If a leader is too aggressive, the organization might cut corners and take too many risks. If a leader is over-cautious, the company may miss out on important opportunities for fear of failure.
  • If a leader is too nice, poor performers are rarely disciplined. If the leader is too mean, a toxic environment can exist that affects overall morale.
  • If a leader is too knowledgeable, the team depends on them for all the answers. If a leader has only a limited understanding of the business, there is a lack of respect and the possibility that people could take advantage of the situation.

Finding balance as a leader is critical but determining the right balance in every leadership situation is difficult. It requires self-awareness and a willingness to listen to constructive feedback. Leaders who are looking for balance need to have an empathic ear to listen to employee’s concerns. They need to be sensitive to areas where they may be acting in an extreme manner.

The challenge of finding leadership balance is being addressed head-on in a new book called The Dichotomy of Leadership which was just released this month. It is written by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two combat Navy Seal veterans who wrote the New York Times bestselling book, Extreme Ownership. In this new book, Willink and Babin discuss how to find a balance between the opposing forces that pull leaders in different directions. They introduce a new approach, based on their combat experience, to help leaders recognize and attain the right leadership balance.

Willink and Babin created a list of 12 leadership principles they used with success in the Iraq War. Each principle has a qualification that may seem to be conflicting until you understand the concept of leadership balance. For example, “a leader must lead but also be ready to follow” and “a leader must be confident but never cocky.”

Willink explains that, “Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities between one extreme and another.” By being aware of these contradictions, a leader can “more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.”

Finding the right balance is one of the many challenges of leadership. Leaders need to be aware of extreme behaviors which can lead to organizational problems. Don’t be that leader who micromanages his team, but don’t be a disengaged leader either. Both extremes will frustrate your team. Find a balance that works and you’ll be a more effective leader.

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