Balanced Leadership: An Introduction
Organisational structures and leadership teams are often complex and confusing. They combine a huge number of different influences, not all of which will be pulling in the same direction at the same time. Examples of these are as follows:
- Personality and self-interest
- Experience and memory
- Supplier and customer issues
- Process and protocol
It is possible to look at these as being a combination of operational and personal. Or if you prefer, task-based and people-based.
Balanced leadership, as the name implies, uses a measuring balance as an overarching metaphor.
On one side are people; on the other side are tasks and process.
Any organisation will naturally focus on its strategic and tactical approach however this cannot be at the expense of the right approach to its people. Consider a successful football coach. It’s one thing to have a great strategy (youth team development) and tactics to suit (agile formations to counter the opposition threat). However, if the coach cannot motivate or communicate the tactics successfully, the team will not succeed.
Good leadership means focussing on both sides of the balance. Good leadership understands that there is an underlying need to balance transactional management tasks with a transformational approach. Too much emphasis on one or the other will lead to an imbalance across the team.
Let’s look at what this means in practice.
Balanced Leadership theory – Task and Process
All organisations rely on tasks and process to ensure the delivery of their product or service, regardless of sector. This could be ensuring ward hygiene in a hospital, picking and packing in a warehouse, or curriculum delivery in a school.
By focussing on process, a good leader will make sure that these tasks are achieved with the minimum amount of non-value-added activity. This will mean that the customer will receive the best product or service available, in the least amount of time and at the best price.
There are a number of ways to guarantee that task and process are optimised. One example is the use of ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Based on the idea that there is only one best way to approach a task, standard operating procedures ensure that this best way is identified and communicated clearly. They will also ensure that measurement takes place so that continuous improvement is enforced.
However, it is only by having a motivated and performing workforce that optimisation can be achieved.
Balanced Leadership theory – Transformational approach
On the other side of our ‘balance’, which we can think of a transformational approach, is knowledge and understanding of people and their teams. Strong leaders will understand the vital role that each and every team member has in the delivery of organisational goals, but that they need encouragement and motivation along the way.
Transformational leadership is where a leader works with teams to identify needed change, creating an inspirational vision to guide the change, and then executing the change together with committed and engaged members of a group. They will encourage conversation, feedback and healthy debate.
Finally, good leaders know that change is a part of life at work, whether this is part of a continuous improvement strategy, or as a response to changes in outside influences.
The Importance of Context
It is always important to take context into account. Not every approach to balanced leadership is going to be the same.
Indeed, there will be times when a particular set of circumstances will demand an unequal focus, an imbalance. An operational crisis, for example, where a quality issue might mean an all-hands-to-the-deck approach. Here, everything may be temporarily subordinated to solving the issue.
However, this does not mean throwing out a people-centric approach and good communication with it, but it does mean a shift in short-term focus.
Conversely, at other critical times it might be appropriate to place an increased emphasis on well-being conversations that place less onus on the current task-in-hand. An example would be the shift to home working during the recent pandemic.
Similarly, this does not mean that procedures can be forgotten about, especially if the organisation is in a high-risk sector.
However, at Xenonex we believe that it is possible to discern some common themes that should always be in place. Here are some examples:
How to be a balanced leader
A truly balanced leader is a composite of many things. They will be agile – able to shift focus from strategic or tactical thinking to a people focused approach. They will be clear minded, and able to work comfortably in stressful situations.
Ultimately, through self-awareness, they will not get dragged too far onto either side of the balance for protracted periods of time.
A key to finding a balance is adopting a human approach to leadership. Furthermore, an understanding that no two people are the same. There are default personalities to deal with, so-called ‘blind spots’ to self-awareness not to mention the stress and pressures of life.
One way to deal with this is through situational leadership. This is to vary an approach from delegative to authoritarian, and all points in between, depending on the person and context that is being dealt with.
Here are some traits that are common among successful, balanced leaders:
Able to inspire
Natural problem solvers
The Power of Conversations
It might sound obvious, but having conversations with employees is fundamental to good – and balanced – leadership. In this respect, ‘conversations’ means more than just surface-level chatting. It means that all parties understand that active listening is critical.
It also means that colleagues should be encouraged to be open and honest, and that conversations can take place in a ‘safe space’ i.e. where disclosure is treated with respect.
When applied to process or task driven situations, one can often find that tasks can be improved by getting feedback from those carrying out the tasks; this feedback will of course only be received if all parties understand that conversation is a two-way street.
We do not always disclose our opinions to other people; often we don’t disclose them to ourselves! Having a clear understanding of our beliefs, values and opinions is a starting point for valuable conversations.
The ‘Johari Window’ is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. By understanding more about how we can be transparent, we can remove any blind spots that would otherwise make conversations difficult.
Here is an example of the Johari Window. Conversations, trust and transparency can all help to increase the size of the ‘open self’ area, and reduce the areas marked as ‘blind self’, ‘hidden self’ and ‘unknown self’. And if this happens, then it is more likely to lead to an open culture where problem-solving is a natural by-product of working.
The importance of clear speaking
Either side of the ‘balance’ can be affected by lack of clarity or confusion. When setting tasks, or when encouraging a positive approach to change, a balanced leader will ensure that the message that they think has been conveyed…has been conveyed.
By adopting a clear-speaking approach, a leader will naturally use language that is easily understood, making tasks easier to achieve, and making for a closer team with greater empathy.
Balanced leaders will understand that language should vary to meet the context. They will know that often fewer, shorter words are better than a diatribe full of complicated words. They will also be attuned to non-verbal communications, and will always be prepared to ask questions…and listen to responses.
Balance Leadership within Xenonex
Xenonex are passionate believers in balanced leadership. It is no accident that the name ‘Xenonex’ is itself a palindrome…an equally balanced word that reads the same backwards as it does forwards.
Because of this, one of our company values is ‘Challenge and Support’. Another balance, this value describes how the right sort of coaching should focus on the right mix of the two. Coachees should feel like they have been challenged…but also that they are not in it alone.
So, balance is at the heart of our culture: we have many years of experience of a variety of leadership styles, and would never endorse a style that we did not fully believe in ourselves.
There are a number of Xenonex courses that deal specifically with balanced leadership. Some of these are delivered in conjunction with our partners at the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), whilst others are our own. Here are some examples:
ILM 5 Certificate in Leadership and Management
Senior Leader Development Programme
Middle Leader Development Programme
The Resilient Leader
ILM 3 Certificate in Leadership and Management
NCN Conference, March 10th and 11th 2021
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