As I sit down and write my first essay for 2021, I am sharing an idea that I am facing personally…. the difficult and always changing “balancing act” of being a leader. It’s interesting (and pretty wonderful) after 35+ years in business to still be learning new lessons, facing new challenges, and growing as a leader. I took some time over the holidays to reflect on leading a wonderful organization in the face of Covid and the various business challenges we are facing today. A central theme in my self-assessment was how challenging it was to keep a sense of “balance” in my leadership approach in 2020. Lets take a few minutes and review a few thoughts on “Leadership balance” across situations/times (not just through the lens of 2020) and think about a few ideas that might be helpful broadly.
I will assume for now that all the readers of this essay have driven a car, sailed a boat, or ridden a bike in their lifetimes. Imagine one of those moments and think about “steering” that car/boat/bike from one point to another. The reality of any of those situations is that you CAN’T just point to your destination and be done with the task, you are ALWAYS ADJUSTING your direction, a little left or right, port or starboard to account for turns in the road, waves on the lake, wind direction and intensity, etc. In order to reach one’s destination, you have to always adjust your steering… we are always adjusting our direction to be successful! It’s the same in leading an organization, we need to always adjust our approach, always “correct” a bit if we “over-steer” and always compensate for the changing environment to adjust our steering!
I am a person and a leader that always looks for the data/metrics/stats in many situations. I hold onto the “science” of a situation, whether that relates to Covid vaccination results/ testing protocols, or when I recently bought new tires for our car and dove into the test review metrics, I usually start by digging into the “objective” data of any situation. This past year has taught me new lessons on the need to “balance” that “objective” orientation with a renewed focus on the “subjective” side of things. When I casually ask one of my team members on a private call/zoom “how they are doing,” I need to be REALLY READY to fully hear them and their responses. At times over the past 10 months, I have heard responses to that question that have included family members passing, the inability to be with a sick child in the hospital, personal fear having just received a positive Covid test, and the list goes on…. the responses have been heartfelt, poignant and intense, often superseding any of the business challenges of the moment. Leaders must find a balance between the objective business metrics of the moment and the subjective emotional state of the team, and me that balancing act has been really hard this past year. I have no panacea or easy leadership “buzzword” that is easy to follow on this one, but just start by recognizing an old idea that you “manage project and lead people,” and as such, we as leaders need to come to that moment focusing on the well-being of our people first!
Finally I want to comment on the need/requirement of leaders in these challenging times to be strong with their intellect (IQ) AND their emotional intelligence (EQ) to be successful. Once again it’s a balance, but neither side can overwhelm the whole! A successful leader needs to use all of his/her brainpower, and all of his/her “heartpower,” to handle the challenges we are facing today. I have found it too easy to focus more on the IQ side, thus being out of “balance” with the EQ needs of the company and the team. Work with a friend/coach /mentor to help you find the strength and the “balance” to bring both sides of “Intelligence” to bear in your work everyday!
As I said at the start, this has been a very challenging year on so many fronts, and a year full of learning and growth certainly for me. I am working on this idea of “Leadership Balance,” and I hope you can find ways to bring this idea to life in your worlds as we dive into the hope/optimism & challenges of 2021!
Postscript: One reflection I wanted to share in this essay is how hard it is to be a “balanced leader” when you aren’t feeling very balanced as an individual. 2020 has been incredibly hard and stressful for the entire world, and I for one didn’t FEEL very “balanced” as the year came to an end. Work was stressful, family dynamics in the context of Covid were challenging, sleep was hard to find, and the list goes on….. all adding to the barriers of being a “balanced leader.” We need to both give ourselves the room to acknowledge those challenges and take actions to find ways to add (not subtract) personal balance in our lives.