Good Leaders/Managers Are Balanced

You have to move the sliders into a unique combination for each challenge. The four elements in thisillustration were just chosen at random—I’m not saying that these are the four that matter the most. Just think of them as placeholders.

I’m speaking in Europe, soon, keynoting an event and talking specifically about leadership in this industry. Here are some ideas that are shaping up in my head about leadership:

  1. The inevitable truth about growth is that it requires less “doing” on your part and more “leadership.” Quit thinking that growth is primarily about more risk, more money, or even being the most interesting person in the room. Picture a conversation with a half-dozen principals, and early on someone is going to at least be curious (and may even ask), “How big is your firm?” If it crosses whatever threshold they have, they’ll start listening more carefully. As if being bigger means you’re a better entrepreneur. That’s not true, but what is true is this: a bigger firm requires more leadership from you, and the easiest way to avoid that is to hide in “doing” instead. So growth should be about a lot of things, but primarily it should be about the degree to which you are willing to embrace more leadership in your role.
  2. Leadership is always a balance between extremes. There will be times when you need to angrily push back on an employee’s conduct…and times when you need to hug them and cry with them while saying absolutely nothing (for now). There will be times when you can laugh so hard that you can’t breathe, and times when you need to say, “hey, let’s no go there with that joke, folks. I get it, but let’s stay above that fray.”
  3. Your personal mix of leadership is just that: personal, based on your personality. If you’re an extrovert, you may index toward harmony and encouragement. If you’re an introvert, you may index toward difficult conversations without the attendant empathy. You, or someone close to you, can figure out where this natural mix is for you. The biggest benefit of self-awareness is adjusting those sliders and countering your instincts. Especially when you’re tired or angry.
  4. Every leader is a parent, whether they have kids or not. When you gently shape the direction of your firm, comprised of many unique individuals, yes, you’re trying to balance the short- and long-term trajectory of your success, but you’re also shaping that individual person’s life. You are in a unique position to know who they are in a way that only their closest friends and family see them. And every person within your leadership orb will remember exactly what kind of leader you were. It’s a remarkably powerful way to impact your world.

Our industry is a tad different in that the people who work in it, largely, really want to be here and they love what they do. They put up with some stuff from clients because it gives them the opportunity to keep doing that work. They are exposed to social pressures that maybe they didn’t grow up with, in part because they are on the leading edge of culture. It could be that their families weren’t as stable as yours. In that environment, leadership has never been harder…but never been more rewarding.

  • Someone makes a costly mistake and you alone know that cash balances are not great right now. You’ve got to fight down your first instinct and have a balanced response.
  • Business is slow and everybody knows it. There’s a new potential client who doesn’t check all the boxes on your “client criteria” list. Do you stick to your guns…or compromise so that people keep their jobs?
  • Your most aggravating employee embarrasses you in an all-team meeting, but what she points out is actually true. And after your anger subsides, you grudgingly admit it. Do you ignore the attitude and focus on the substance, or do you address both?
  • There’s an employee who hasn’t been as engaged as you’d like, and you discover two things: his spouse was laid off, but he’s also doing freelance on the side (against your policy). Do you say something?

I don’t have answers to these hypotheticals, by the way. Sorry! But leaders face dozens of these tough calls each week, and in each case the key is to move all the sliders into the appropriate places for that scenario.

If you want to be a better leader, write out your own four extremes and think about how to tweak them for different situations.

Leadership isn’t just about the people side, either. Leaders care a lot about financial performance, new business funnels, positioning, culture, etc. Nobody is going to care more about those things than you do. The incentives just aren’t there, and that’s why leadership can be lonely.

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