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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Balanced leadership

Albert Einstein once said, “The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity... out of discord, harmony... and out of difficulty, opportunity.”

Balancing the technical with the strategy and empathy.

A common challenge for leaders is developing the skill of balance. Staying deeply connected with the work and the people, yet having enough distance to appreciate and see opportunities, leverage organizational strategy, and orchestrate the talent around you. This dance requires continually zooming in and out, attending to details while also empowering others to find solutions and experience failures.

As you move up in the organization, attending to the details (which lead you to this position) is no longer the primary expectation. Your genius lies in broader thinking and an ability to see what others can not.

A great article in ScienceDirect, titled, Balancing Leadership in Projects: Role of the socio-cognitive Space introduces the contemporary theory of “balanced leadership.” This refers to the idea that “leadership is not static but shifts in situational contingency to the best possible leader at any point in time.”  

This is the leadership dance; creating fluidity in your perspective, focus, and support. A seamless give and take.

This article exposes the intricacies between how “shared and distributed leadership emerged as complements to vertical or positional leadership.”  Giving yourself permission to integrate many forms of oversight, depending upon the team, talent, and need. This is the art of leadership.

A question for you: “Why is this so hard?” Why is it hard to let go (link to another Weekly Wisdom that covers this question) and surrender to the voice and expertise of another?

Why do we hold on so tightly?

Delegation is complex:

  1. Perceived value: We attribute self-worth to external factors (completion of a project, a degree, a title, or platitudes) rather than finding fulfillment within the work itself and knowing that your value is not linked to external validation. This perspective is reiterated by Shirzad Charmine in Positive Intelligence and the saboteur of HyperAchiever. If this resonates, you make it difficult to delegate work and grant “success” to others.

  2. Trust: Without foundational trust, delegation doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. Often, we don’t have the right people on the team, we question their skill, and instead of addressing the real issue, we create work-arounds and withhold delegation. This puts us in the weeds of “doing” rather than orchestrating.

This research article titled Trust and Delegation: Theory and Evidence notes:

A high-trust society can organize its workplace on a more flexible and group-oriented basis, with more responsibility delegated to lower levels of the organization. Low-trust societies, by contrast, must fence in and isolate their workers with a series of bureaucratic rules.

  1. Failure: The fear of failure is so paralyzing that relegating control would only increase the likelihood of a mishap, therefore “I must be involved.” This HBR article speaks to Failure Tolerant Leaders and how celebrating and seeking failure leads to better outcomes. Ed Catmull of Pixar said: 

“Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).”

  1. Quality: The “Nobody can do it as well as me”, delegating equates to lowering standards. This idea is also called “self-enhancement bias.” You believe that your way is the right way and that ultimate success is within you. This position underestimates the skill and value of others and frankly, is false. Others may do it differently but most often there are many roads which lead to success.

My Challenge to You

  • Take inventory: Have you found balance and can easily navigate the detail work with the need for strategic leadership? Without emotion, deliberately look at your time and where it is spent. What are two or three things that you could shift to another person which then allows you to work more efficiently, provide more value, and derive more happiness?

  • Look at the four pillars above. Which resonates as the greatest barrier to your team’s success? What small changes might you integrate now that you are mindful of the pitfalls?

  • Openly discuss these ideas with your team. We are all susceptible to falling victim to these perils. Openly discussing these ideas and normalizing this thinking will create team cohesion, accountability, and the beginning of a shift in the balance.

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