If you’re a leader, your behavior has the biggest impact on the results your organization produces – good or bad. A leader’s personal preferences get automatically translated into “the way we do things around here,” which is how I define corporate culture. It’s the leader’s personal criteria for success, whether conscious or not, that governs what gets emphasized and what people ignore.
The downfall of too many leaders is being stuck in one particular mode of behavior or style, and being blind to others. For example, some leaders are very effective setting goals, establishing objectives, holding others accountable, and motivating employees to work harder, faster, and better.
Yes, a results focus is important and necessary. But – being too results oriented can become monotonous, uninspiring, rut-like, and to an extreme, a sweat shop. What do highly- effective leaders do? They do both: they draw upon two opposing styles – direct opposites. They realize the importance of setting goals and being accountable (achieving results), AND they also realize the importance of the direct opposite: in this case, building pride, commitment, and loyalty, and enabling employees to participate in setting their goals.
Opposites Make Sense
It’s human nature to think opposites are mutually exclusive – “either/or.” We assume we can’t have two opposites at the same time. You can either be decisive or reflective; a big-picture thinker or detail-oriented; a risk-taker who makes bold moves, or cautious, making incremental adjustments; you can run an organization by managing performance, or do it by bringing out the best potential in people. It’s natural to think one or the other.
When we value one way over another, we tend to devalue or discount its opposite. That’s because we tend to look at opposites in the negative. For example, a results-oriented leader who operates with a sense of urgency and an unwavering commitment to making the numbers, might look at his direct opposite, the person who values teamwork and collaboration, participation, and building trusting relationships, as being too slow, permissive, indulgent, lenient, detached, weak, or even aloof.
Teach others this behavior
Imagine you’re a hospital CEO. You most-likely value stability, consistency, reliability, established routines, control, careful monitoring, and plenty of documentation. After all, human life is at stake. But how long can your hospital exist, let alone, thrive, in today’s hyper-competitive environment without also being innovative, flexible, creative, adaptive, and open to change. Sustainable success today requires embracing opposites simultaneously.
In our current business climate of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), no single solution ever can be good enough. Sometimes we need stability, and other times, change. And sometimes, we need both at the same time. The most-important leadership behavior all leaders need to adopt – and to teach others – is to stop assuming everything is an either/or decision. With every decision a leader makes, the manner of thinking must embrace “AND/BOTH” – where leaders simultaneously consider the positive attributes of both opposites.