Six rules to balance the seesaw of leadership

Bottom Line Up front: Think of leadership like this – You are tentatively balanced on a seesaw. One foot on the left and one foot on the right. If there is too much weight or effort exerted on either side, then it’s no longer leadership – it’s a bad character trait.

The left of the seesaw is arrogance, narcissism and bullying. The right of the seesaw is modesty, altruism and favouritism.

Leadership is a subtle balance between opposing character traits and behaviours. For the emerging leader or those who have suddenly found themselves in a leadership position, it can be confusing to know how to get the balance right. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s good to have extremes of character, but understanding yourself and understating your own character certainly helps when it comes to managing the balance of your own personality against your leadership requirements or duties.

At the very core of leadership is this principle: Leadership is motivating someone to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.

With that said, think of leadership as if it’s about winning a fan base and building followers, creating subordinates that want your attention and need you as a positive force in their lives. One of the interesting paradigms of leadership is the requirement to balance out personal and professional character traits, behaviours, actions and emotions to win over your subordinates. Conveying an extreme at either end of the spectrum will ostracise a group of followers or alienate others from following you. You need to balance the seesaw.

Newton’s most famous law is the third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The meaning of this on the surface is very simple, that there is a pair of forces acting on two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. This law is used to describe what happens when objects come into contact or interact with each other taking into account the weights of objects and the transference of that weight into energy.

For every leadership situation, the right amount of force needs to be applied to keep the leader balanced. Think again about the leadership seesaw. Lean too far to one side of the equation and you will be seen as too hard and unapproachable, or worse still arrogant and narcissistic. Too far to the other side and you will be seen as weak, ineffective, and ripe for a leadership battle.
For every force that is applied in a leadership interaction, there is an equal but opposite return of force. The force returning could be push back from the workforce, passive-aggressive behaviours and noncompliance, or alternatively, it can be an embracing of positive change and acquitting tasks to the best of a subordinate’s ability.

It’s important to be balanced and to exert the appropriate force, to not tip to one end of the spectrum or the other. The following list outlines the delicate balance that is required to sit in the middle of the leadership equation.

1. Lead when it’s needed and follow when it’s appropriate:

A good leader knows when they are required to lead. A good leader has also learned at some point in their career how to follow and importantly can still do this if it is necessary. The whole idea of collaboration is predicated on a leader being able to facilitate the emergence of good ideas and then take a back seat and assist or even follow when good ideas come to fruition.

2. Project a force of presence, not dominate every encounter:

It’s vital that a leader is able to project self-confidence. They must be assertive and sure enough of their own place in the world that they can control the room. The juxtaposition to this is the leader who exudes so much confidence that their subordinates don’t feel comfortable and can’t wait to get out of the line of sight of the leader in case they gain his or her attention.

3. Be reserved and thoughtful, not vacant or silent:

A leader is expected to think deeply about things, to calculate and analyse the arguments or the points raised before making some deliberation. A leader should not be silent on an issue or distracted to the point of not paying attention, and most importantly, if there is a significant issue or a requirement for the leader to lead, then they must do so when it matters.

4. Humble in defeat and gracious in victory:

A leader will be judged by how they react to winning and losing, and these behaviours shape the culture of an organisation. In a personal sense, a leader will recognise their shortfalls and admit these, taking ownership of mistakes and expecting the same from others. When it comes to winning, they will share the spoils and create positive but not arrogant narratives.

5. Build close relationships, even friendships, but not favouritism:

This is one of the hardest areas for an emerging leader. Understanding that leadership is all about relationships, but that there are boundaries that a leader must have in place to stop favouritism. One person, based on personality alone, should never be allowed to become more important than another person or more important than the business that you lead.

6. Calm in stressful situations, but not shocked into in-action:

It’s true that no action is a course of action and a leader should always be mindful that doing nothing is still a decision. A leader should be calm when confronted with a stressful situation or a chaotic event. However, they need to demonstrate that there is a decision coming and that once the evidence or information is in, that they will react with precision. If the decision is made that nothing will be done, this needs to be implemented with just as much clarity and purpose.

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