Dare Yourself to Pick Both

“Pick one and get on with it.”

That’s good advice if you’re holding up the line at the coffee shop, or deciding which lovely-but-unneeded-yet-on-sale sweater to buy. It’s lousy advice if we’re looking to do our best in leading ourselves and those around us.

Business, academia, the media, our parents, and others pressure us to select one of two options. We face those same influences in deciding what kind of leader we’ll be.

There’s one school of leadership thought that tells us to step up, take risks, make decisions, and take charge.

“When in command, command.” ~Admiral Chester Nimitz

We’re advised not to be timid. to take full advantage of the power and authority of our position. To be direct in telling others what to do. To keep a close check on quality, productivity, and results. To not show weakness. To tell people only what they need to know to do their job. To quickly quash conflict. Sound like performance suggestions you’ve heard before about how to take charge?

At the other end of the continuum is the school of thought that says leaders need to be nurturing, focus on “we” and not “me,” and aid employees in becoming their best.

“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” ~Tom Peters, writer and speaker

We’re advised to connect with people and connect the dots for them. To provide purpose, accountability, and engagement while making room for different points of view. More familiar stuff about taking care, right?

Both of these schools of thought are meritorious, but picking one as our singular style of leading may be easier and more convenient; yet it leaves us woefully unprepared to handle the smorgasbord that’s the reality of leading ourselves and others.

The joyful and confounding thing about people is that we’re different. We cherish our individuality, yet succumb to one-size-fits-all leadership advice that denies others their individuality.

The year is new. Now’s the time to commit to shake up our leadership style—incorporate individuality with its diversity of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.

Decide to be a leader who both takes charge and takes care.

To be that kind of leader, we must consciously and openly...

  • Accommodate different approaches to work.

Some people do need to be told what to do. And when. And how. Others excel when they can figure things out for themselves. Manage accordingly.

  • Value both results and relationships.

Results do need to be monitored, just not in a sweatshop controlling way. Employees who feel valued are more satisfied and productive. Well-being, connection, and positive results go hand-in-hand.

  • Position bottom line growth as only one part of the organization’s greater good.

There’s more to life than numbers. The same needs to hold true for business.

  • Understand that power in and of itself is neutral.

Bosses boss. Directing and controlling are part of the job description. However, the power to direct and control only becomes negative and abusive when “me-thinking” replaces “we-thinking” all the time. People are the ones who turn power into something bad. Abusing power is a choice that doesn’t have to be made.

  • Park the ego.

Growing a big ego makes people insensitive, blind, and stupid. A former boss, the founder and CEO of the company, made taking his toupee to the stylist a mark of favor amongst his direct reports. Six-digit salaried executives competed to transport a box of hair. So silly and wasteful. One man’s ego fueled lots of egos and unnecessary competition.

“Managing our ego’s craving for fortune, fame, and influence is the prime responsibility of any leader.” ~Jennifer Woo, The Lane Crawford Joyce Group

We can avoid acquiring the inflated ego fate provided we lead ourselves with self-awareness, courage, and vulnerability.

The next time you’re about to criticize an employee for being too forceful or too caring...

Pause for a moment. Reflect on the example you’re setting.

Have you picked one style and ignored the other? If so, it’s time to recalibrate—dare yourself to both take charge and take care.

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