January 14, 2017 – Leadership

Leadership is a Balancing Act (first installation)

A few months ago, I gave a leadership talk at work on Leadership as a Balancing Act. My initial thoughts were to talk about how we balance the myriad tasks thrown our way and distinguish between the urgent and the important.  The more I put thoughts down on paper, the clearer I understand that approach was situational and I wanted to discuss concepts that are more foundational and enduring. So I made a list of seemingly opposite competencies that I believe most leaders need to hone individually and then balance in action.

The first and arguably most important pair of competencies are confidence and humility. Let me start with confidence. While serving as a Russian interpreter with the other two authors of these posts, I learned from my instructors and some wise leaders in our organization that a key skill for my occupation was recognition of the very fine line between confidence and cockiness. Each of us needed the confidence to be able to stand in front of an audience of experts or a diplomat and know that we were capable of getting the message right including the many nuances that pepper negotiations and political language. However, once you thought you were SOOO good that you didn’t need to continuously prepare and hone your craft, you often stepped into murky waters causing potential for serious problems. Leaders need confidence. People won’t follow someone who doubts themselves or their abilities and they see through a fake in a New York minute.

The other side of the coin is humility. Most people think it’s odd that I list humility as a key (and I think most important) leadership competency. But when you really think about it, leadership is about taking care of those under your charge so that they can accomplish a mission. Once a leader makes leadership about themselves, they immediately begin to fail their people and the mission. The best leaders put their folks ahead of personal interests or career objectives. They build teams around them comprised of people smarter and more capable than they are which requires the confidence and humility in perfect balance. Humility does not equate to meekness or timidity. Humility requires confidence enough to admit you don’t know it all, can’t do it all, and don’t always make the right decisions. How many leaders do you know who will admit those things privately, much less openly. The best leaders I know do this on a regular basis.

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