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.

The One Job Nobody Wants (And Why You Should Take It)

Everybody wants to be the boss. They want to be in charge. They want the corner office, the assistant, the parking spot, the title, the salary and all the trappings that go along with being in charge. That is, of course, if everything is going well.

Nobody wants to be the leader when things are going wrong. Nobody wants to oversee a business that is failing with major problems in customer satisfaction, delivery, quality, profits, employee retention or morale. Nobody wants to be the leader in times of crisis.

While people will line up to lead organizations and departments that are performing well, almost no one wants the jobs that require an extraordinary leadership effort. Except for me. I want the hard leadership jobs. I want to lead the turnaround. I want to motivate a team to do the impossible. I want the helm in times of crisis. I want to run to the fire. In fact, you should want it as well. Let me explain.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Leading during tough times is difficult, but, the rewards are incredible.

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Tough times require you to operate at your highest level. When the seas are calm and the weather is nice, you don’t have to be on the top of your game. But tough times require an intense, 24/7 focus on the problem. As a leader, everyone in the organization is watching you and depending on you to make the right decisions to lead them out of the situation. It requires focus, determination, decisiveness, courage, intensity and perseverance. It will take your absolute best.

You learn a lot about yourself during tough times. The challenge of leading during difficult times is learning to deal with those voices of self-doubt, fear and worry while your team is depending on you for confidence and strength. Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. There is nothing that will boost confidence more than facing the toughest challenge in your career and coming out on top.

You build strong bonds with your team during tough times. When you stand shoulder to shoulder with your team through a crisis, you build a bond that can last a lifetime. When a leader and a team step up and work together through a tough situation, it builds a powerful new level of trust and respect. The overall capability of the organization is forever enhanced through this experience.

Tough times give you a new perspective. Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. You have a much greater appreciation for when times are good. You also are less likely to let people, politics and minor issues get you down. Tough times help build your maturity as a leader.

Tough times become an anchor point for the rest of your career. Great leaders can almost always point to a time in their career when they became great. In most cases, it was leading an organization through a tough situation. The most challenging situation you face may be the defining moment in your career.

Most of us don’t want to go through difficult times. It’s human nature to want things to be easy. The problem is that, when things are easy and you aren’t challenged, you don’t grow. Confidence and maturity as a leader come from dealing with your self-doubt and fears while overcoming adversity.

Tough times require your best. You learn what you are capable of, you learn what your team is capable of, you build strong bonds, you gain a new perspective and your performance will define your career. Why not take the tough leadership jobs? It may be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Photo credit: “Mike” Michael L. Baird, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/6932387544