The dichotomy of leadership is the balance that every leader must find between two opposing forces in leadership – ready to lead, but also knowing when to follow.
Everything about leadership must be balanced. They must be close with their people, but not so close that it becomes a problem. They must discipline but not become tyrannical. Balance is crucial to victory.
It’s not easy to maintain the constant shifts and adjustments necessary to balance it all, yet it is essential for effective leadership.
Every good leader must develop the ability to recognise, understand and adjust the balance. Anyone who masters the dichotomy of leadership will lead his or her teams to victory.
Part 1: Balancing People
The most difficult dichotomy in leadership is to care deeply for each individual member of the team while accepting the risks necessary to accomplish the mission.
If leaders develop overly close relationships with their people, they may not be willing to make those people do what is necessary to complete a project or task. They may not be able to have difficult conversations with them.
A leader must own it all, but empower others. Leaders must also balance between micromanagement and hands-off leadership.
When a leader micromanages, the team will not take action unless directed and they will develop an overall sense of passivity and failure to react. When a leader is too hands-off, the team will not be coordinated and may focus on the wrong priorities.
A good leader will always give clear guidance about the mission, the goal, and the end state. They must also set boundaries and assign explicit tasks and rankings to each team member.
Leaders cannot be too lenient or too overbearing. They must carefully evaluate when and where to hold the line and when to allow some slack. Each leader has a finite amount of power and it should be used carefully. A good leader should be resolute where it matters, but never inflexible and uncompromising on matters of little importance to the overall strategic mission.
A good leader knows when to mentor and when to fire. Leaders are responsible for the output of the individuals on their team. The goal of any leader is to get the most out of each individual – to push him or her to reach his or her maximum potential so that the team itself can reach its maximum potential.
Conversely, leaders must also understand that humans have limitations and that not every person will be suited for a particular job.
Thus, a leader has to balance helping underperformers improve, utilising them in a position where their strengths are fully capitalised, and sometimes making the tough call to let that person go. A leader must be loyal to his team members, but he also must be loyal to the team itself and ensure that each member has a net positive impact.
Usually, it’s okay to say, “No bad teams, only bad leaders,” but sometimes there are substandard individuals that simply can’t improve. When a leader has done everything possible to get an individual up to speed without seeing results, then it is time to let that individual go. Be patient, but not too patient.
Part 2: Balancing the Mission
A leader knows that they must train hard, but train smart. Training your team must be hard. It must simulate realistic challenges and apply pressure to decision-makers. There is no growth in the comfort zone.
If training doesn’t push the team beyond the limits of what is easy, the team will never develop the capacity to take on greater challenges. But training cannot be so challenging that it crushes the team, demoralises it, or overwhelms participants to the point where they fail to learn. A leader must find the balance in training and focus on three critical aspects: realism, fundamentals, and repetition.
Every training scenario should be based on something that is likely to happen in a real scenario. Trainings should cover the basic tactics that are the fundamentals. Training must be continuous for everyone – particularly leaders.
It’s not valid to say that you don’t have the time or the budget to train. Good training is essential to the success of any team. Use smart training to maximise the use of time and enable optimal learning.
A leader must be aggressive, but not reckless. Problems will not solve themselves – a leader must be aggressive and take action to solve them and implement a solution. An aggressive mindset should be the default setting for any leader. Good leaders seek out ways to further the strategic mission. Good leaders are proactive. They must not lose their temper or speak angrily to others. Aggression should be balanced with careful thought and analysis to make sure that the risks have been assessed and mitigated.
A leader cannot be overly aggressive or reckless decisions will be made. A good leader takes a careful moment of consideration before making decisions. The dichotomy between aggression and caution must be balanced.
A good leader is disciplined, but not rigid. Discipline is important for leaders, but excessive discipline can stifle freethinking in both team leaders and team members.
Standard operating procedures, repeatable processes and consistent methodologies are helpful in any organization. But there must be a balance. Do not be so strict that you inhibit your subordinates’ willingness and ability to think. Give your team members the power to break SOPs when necessary and the freedom to think about alternative solutions and new ideas. Too much discipline inhibits initiative. Balance strict discipline with the freedom to adapt, adjust and manoeuvre. Be disciplined, but not rigid.
A good leader holds people accountable but doesn’t hold their hands. Accountability is an important tool for leaders, but it should not be the primary tool. It must be balanced with other leadership tools, such as making sure people understand that why, empowering subordinates, and trusting they will do the right thing without direct oversight.
When a leader holds a subordinate accountable, there is almost no room for the leader to do anything else besides monitor the progress of that specific task. Instead of using accountability as the primary tool of leadership, leaders should lead. The leader must make the team understand why. The leader should make sure its members have ownership of their tasks and the ability to make adjustments as needed. Make sure they know how their task supports the overall strategic success of the mission and how important their specific task is to the team.
Balance accountability with educating the team and empowering its members to maintain standards even without direct oversight from the top.
Part 3: Balancing Yourself
Every leader must be willing and able to lead, but it’s equally important for a leader to be able to follow. A leader must be willing to lean on the expertise and ideas of others, regardless of whether they are junior or less experienced. If someone else has a great idea or specific knowledge that puts them in the best position to lead a particular project, a good leader recognises that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit but that the mission is accomplished in the most effective manner possible.
Confident leaders encourage junior members of the team to step up and lead when it will contribute to mission success. A good leader praises each contributing team member for a team win.
A good leader must follow and support the chain of command, meaning they must also be a good follower of his or her own senior leaders even if the idea conflicts with a leader’s idea. Leaders who fail to be good followers fail themselves and their team. But when a leader is willing to follow, the team functions effectively and the probability of mission success increases.
A good leader plans, but doesn’t overplan. Careful planning is essential to the success of any mission. Planning means never taking anything for granted, preparing for likely contingencies, and maximising the chance of mission success while minimising the risk to the troops executing the operation. Not every risk can be controlled. Thus, leaders must manage the dichotomy between planning and overplanning.
If you try to create a solution for every single potential problem that might arise, you overwhelm your team and you overcomplicate decisions for leaders. Rather than preventing or solving problems, overplanning can create additional and sometimes far more difficult problems.
Therefore, it is imperative that leaders focus on only the most likely contingencies that might arise. Choose at most the three or four most probable contingencies for each phase, along with the worst-case scenario. This will prepare the team to execute and increase the chances of mission success.
It is important that leaders do not stray too far in the other direction. When leaders dismiss likely threats or problems that could arise, it sets the team up for greater difficulties that may lead to mission failure. At every level of the team, leaders must fight against complacency and overconfidence. Business leaders must never become callous with the livelihoods and careers of their employees and associates or the capital invested.
Each risk requires careful evaluation, weighing and balancing the risk versus the reward. Careful contingency plans are key to managing such risks and achieving victory. It is difficult to balance the dichotomy between these two extremes, but it is critical for every leader to understand that in order to be successful, he or she must plan, but not overplan.
Leaders must be humble, but not passive. Humility is the most important quality in a leader. A good leader must be able to check their ego, accept constructive criticism and take ownership for their mistakes. It is essential to building strong relationships with others, both up and down the chain of command, as well as with supporting teams outside the immediate chain of command.
Some leaders can be humble to a fault. A leader cannot be passive. When it truly matters, leaders must be willing to push back, voice their concerns, stand up for the good of their team, and provide feedback up the chain against a direction or strategy they know will endanger the team or harm the strategic mission.
This is a difficult dichotomy to balance, but just the awareness of these two opposing forces can be one of the most powerful tools at a leader’s disposal. Leaders must be humble enough to listen to new ideas, willing to learn strategic insights, and open to implementing new and better tactics and strategies. But a leader must also be ready to stand firm when there are clearly unintended consequences that negatively impact the mission and risk harm to the team.
A leader must be focused, but not detached. Leaders must be attentive to details, but they cannot be so immersed in the details that they lose track of the larger situation and are unable to provide command and control for the entire team.
Leaders must ensure they don’t get sucked into the tactical details but maintain the ability to detach. When confronted with the enormity of operational plans and the intricate micro terrain within those plans, it becomes easy to get lost in the details. It is crucial for leaders to step back and maintain the strategic picture.
Leaders cannot get so obsessed by the details that they lose focus of the bigger picture.
Leaders must find the balance between understanding the details and becoming completely submerged and overwhelmed by them. They can’t get so far away that they lose track of what’s happening. They must be attentive to details, understand the challenges of the teams executing the missions, and position themselves where they can best support their teams.
You may also like to read:
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
- The Character Based Leader by Lead Change Group
- Great Business Teams by Howard Guttman
- The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
- Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman
- Simply Brilliant by Bill Taylor
- The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
- Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
- Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden