Published: MWorld, The Journal of the American Management Association
Leaders are expected to perform a dangerous balancing act on the high wires of Corporate America. And everyday, we hear about yet another leader who has fallen from the top tiers of his or her organization. It isn’t simply leaders who find themselves precariously perched on this high wire. Over the last 20 years, the “topple rate” at which companies fall from their business rankings has doubled (CFO.com, Extreme Competition, The McKinsey Quarterly, May 24, 2005).
This high wire act is not news to those of you who are scrambling to keep your companies profitable while simultaneously investing resources to secure its future… to those of you who are stretched thin with both an external focus—battling unrelenting competition—and an internal focus—inspiring and retooling your organization’s talent… to those of you who are bombarded by new intelligence and technology, while vigilantly holding onto what is unique and central to your organization’s continuation.
So, what’s a leader to do?
As a master consultant/coach, I’ve worked with great leaders that have a schizophrenic aspect to their leadership style—in a good way! They understand and are comfortable with balanced leadership—the “both/and” approach that produces high-performance organizations. These leaders are equally adept at managing the authority side of business, as they are the relationship aspect. They understand how to secure the future of their organization by managing the bottom-line for results today and by promoting an environment of innovation for ROI tomorrow. These two distinct business domains require different yet complementary skill sets to be effective—and natural leaders just seem to know this and adjust their style for the situation.
The failure of much of management today is their inability to master this delicate dance. The good news is that other, not so natural, leaders can learn to move effectively between these schizophrenic like domains through awareness and practice.
Let’s examine more closely one of the paradoxical tensions:
Bottom Line Results for Today
Innovation/Renewal Results for Tomorrow
|• Production and greater efficiency is primary point of view.||• Creation of future value and sustained growth primary point of view.|
|• Fondness for healthy structure for fostering greater efficiency.||• Less tolerance for structure for it stifles non-linear leaps.|
|• Usually involves maintenance.||• Usually involves change.|
|• Competition stimulates improvement.||• Flourishes in supportive environment.|
|• Requires repetition and error reduction.||• Requires risk taking/mistake making.|
|• Comfort improves competency.||• Dissatisfaction stirs the fire.|
Now that we’ve glimpsed some of the layers beneath the surface of these two domains, is it any wonder that we can’t use the same skill set, we can’t set the same policies, we can’t interact with the talent in the same way, and we certainly can’t employ the same mindset to attain results in both arenas of the business?
Since you’ve now identified that both sides of leadership are essential, you might assume that balancing delicately between the two is the place to be. Yet this is a sure-fire formula for failure! Today’s fast-paced business environment demands the fluidity of a “both/and” approach. Leaders who nimbly swing along the continuum of these paradoxical tensions will find that sometimes one side will receive the dominant focus, sometimes the other will, and sometimes both, together, will receive equal attention.
So if you have an either/or approach, how do you make the adjustment to find the true “both/and” balance that will enhance your career and the results you need to achieve for your organization?
- Lead With Both Authority And Relationship: Leaders have a dual role. They’re responsible for both authority and they’re also accountable for the relationship side of business—not an easy balancing act. Too little authority, and the decision process turns into groupthink—the death knell to a pioneering culture. Ultimately, no matter how flat or decentralized the organizational structure, great leaders don’t abdicate crucial business calls to others; they make them. Too much authority and you lose the vital, creative input of staff. This is particularly true today when talent is the single-most essential resource of an organization. A leader keyed into relationships: paints the vision people can relate to and follow, authentically respects and values people for their contribution, listens as though every person is sharing absolute wisdom, and most of all, doesn’t become isolated.
- Rely On Both Your Well-Honed Skills And Broaden Your Arsenal: You made it to the senior ranks because you’re really good at something. You’ve been promoted, compensated and acclaimed for these well-honed skills. And to continue your rise, you’ll need to broaden your arsenal—not give up the old proficiencies, but simply add to your abilities. The lack of a flexible “both/and” leadership style is the ruination of many careers. â€¦So what does that mean? Well, the obvious answer is that if you’re a highly technical/process-driven person, experiment more with the people/pioneering aspects of the business, and vice versa. And that isn’t easy. Our natural proclivity is to hold onto the old. Yes, you know a particular aspect of the business backward and forward. Yes, you’re accustomed to meeting the challenges facing that side of the business. That aside, you must tear off the blinders of the mind, which hold you frozen in your old patterns, and open your mind to a fresh, more expansive perspective of the business.
- Leverage Both Your Golden Touch And Others: You’ve shifted, and now you’re paying attention to the “both/and” sides of the business, but you’re about to fall from the high wire through sheer overload. It’s time to identify your “golden touch.” Why are you being paid the big bucks? In which areas will your skills, knowledge and expertise—and yours alone—make the difference? Most managers spend much of their workday touching tasks well below their level. Challenge yourself, for a week, to see if this is true of you. Examine your workload, what you’re handling every week; is it your “golden touch?” If not, identify who in the organization should be responsible because it’s his or her “golden touch.” Will the assignment expand their arsenal, making them a more viable player in the organization? Is it an area that touches their passion? So, both utilize your “golden touch” and support your subordinates in employing their own “golden touch.”
- Communicate Both Upward And Downward: As I travel around the country interacting with both top leaders and staff alike, their number one complaint is communication! Both sides believe that they’re doing a fine job, yet are dissatisfied with the communication they’re receiving. Not surprising, when 80% of the Board of Directors’ written communication is lost on its way down the corporate hierarchy to the worker. And the loss factor going up is even more significant—96% of it is actually filtered out before ever reaching top management! This is alarming, particularly in today’s fast-paced environment, where accurate communication is the lifeblood of an organization. The simple answer is that everyone needs to share more and share some more and then, yet again, share. But the more complex answer is that it’s the leader’s responsibility to create channels of dialogue both upward and downward by building venues that support the free-flow of information and framing a culture that values straight talk (listening to both the bad news as evenhandedly as the good).
- Be Both a Fire Fighter And a Planter of Seeds: There is no question that many of today’s leaders are in their position because they’ve fought fires extraordinarily well. They met business challenges head-on, and won. That may be how their acclaim was gained, but that’s just the entrance fee. In the hectic world of unrelenting fire fights, it’s of equal importance that leaders carve out time, and then keep that commitment, for planting the seeds of tomorrow’s victories. You must not allow the urgent to embezzle your calendar and thus, the future of your organization. Bob Darretta, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Financial Officer of Johnson & Johnson, once told me that when he assumed a more significant role in the organization, his boss said, “I can confidently expect you to plant seeds because you are reaping the rewards today of the seeds someone else planted in the past.” With such a legacy, is it any wonder that Johnson & Johnson continues to hold their top Fortune 100 ranking?
Balanced leadership is both the head and heart of business, but as we’ve seen, it is so much more complex than that. At its essence is a leader who is responding to the sweeping business challenges facing his or her organization by calling upon the most effective tools and resources at hand—whether it be the authority, processing, head side of business, or the relationship, pioneering heart aspect.
Both are essential for sustaining a noteworthy career and a company that is thriving thirty years from today. Now that you better understand the schizophrenic “both/and” sides of leadership, what will you be doing differently?