Leadership – balancing opposites

The topic of leadership has long fascinated me. I admire leaders. My bookshelves are filled with books about leaders: political, historical, and spiritual. I think many of the shortcomings of our modern world have their roots in a deficiency in leadership.

I just finished reading “The Road to Character” by David Brooks, the New York Times columnist. The importance of character in a leader is a constant theme. However, the paragraph that really resonated with me was his quotation of a book by Wildavsky, Moses as Political leader, describing the dilemmas of leadership:  “The Israelites of Exodus had to tackle the insoluble dilemmas of Mosaic leadership: how to reconcile passion with patience, authority with power sharing, clarity of purpose with self-doubt.”

Writing in today’s New York Times, Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, outlined a similar list of leadership qualities the must be balanced:

Results-focused/Reflectiveness

Honesty/Compassion

Tough-mindedness/Gentleness

Confidence/Humility

Rationality/Intuition

Intelligence/Curiosity

Passion/Composure

Practicality/Vision

 

Add to that Wildavsky’s three

Passion/Patience

Authority/Power-sharing

Clarity of purpose/self-doubt

and we have a fairly complete list of the polar opposites a good leader must balance. Hitting that balance is hard.

Unfortunately, most of our leaders today must succumb to one-dimensional measures of their leadership, if they are to retain their power. CEO’s are shackled by the tyranny of their company’s share price and quarterly earnings reports (admittedly, ‘golden shackles’ that give huge incentive to manipulate the stock price upward). Political leaders cower under the prospect of the fall of their poll numbers, shifting positions in response to the shifting political winds (witness the current presidential races).

Alan Seale, in Creating a World that Works, describes a form of leadership that might be called spiritual leadership. Not of the type of the Dalai Lama, a gentle, super-compassionate life appropriate for a spiritual realm, but rather one that hits a balance between the soul and ego: blending what lies in the heart with the need to get things done here in this world.   Balancing the Vision of the soul with the Practicality of the Ego.   Balancing Intuition and Rationality.

While these insights may not make leadership any easier, being aware of the need to strike a balance may help – being too strong in any one dimension leads to frustration and ineffectiveness.