Leadership is a great balancing act: short term and long term; investment and return; innovation and efficiency; head and heart. Leaders relentlessly live F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
Great leaders are not one dimensional. Great leaders—in politics, in society, in business, in athletics…pick your field of endeavor—function by balancing multiple dimensions of their perspective and their skill. Three dimensions are particularly important…
Orientation: Do you orient your thinking outside-in or inside-out? An “outside-in” market and customer perspective ensures you and your organization stays focused on meeting needs, delivering value, understanding the “jobs-to-be-done” of your products and services. Without the market or world view, you can be extinct before you know it. But…an effective leader is equally aware of the “inside-out” organization perspective: what are we good at? Where are we struggling? Are the intangibles of our culture and values enabling our progress? Without organizational awareness, the best strategic plans wither unexecuted.
Approach: Do you leverage your leadership on your cognitive analytical capabilities…or….on your interpersonal, empathetic ability to engage others? Effective leaders need to synthesize the vast overload of information today and cull what matters to set direction and analyze performance. BUT, an effective leader must also engage and motivate and sustain an emotional connection to employees, customers and partners. One without the other falls flat.
Horizon: What is your field of vision? Like the headlights on a car, great leaders need to be able to switch between high beams—the vision, the long term horizon, the potential for success—and low beams-- the daily tactical activities required to get there. Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog about the importance of leaders zooming in and zooming out. Her view—these perspectives need to be “vantage points, not fixed positions.”
We see leaders in our business simulations struggle with balancing these three dimensions even in microcosm. In a focused leadership development activity, it is easy to get unbalanced on any one of these three (and often on all). The more time pressure, the more conflict, the poorer your business results, the more you can get unbalanced to the immediate, the tactical, the internal. It’s often at the time that leaders need to be the most balanced that it’s toughest to do.
Are you a balanced leader? If not…take a look at these dimensions. There might be a clue about how to regain your bearings.
Amanda Young Hickman is co-founder of Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.