Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions
In recent years, articles have claimed that old-style command-and-control leadership is “out” and a new way of leading is “in.” Instead of telling people what to do, leaders should ask them open-ended questions. Instead of sticking exactly to plans, they should adjust goals as new information emerges. Instead of working from the gut, a leader should rely on data to make decisions. And so fort
Let’s call this old-fashioned leadership model traditional and the new one emerging. Here’s the challenge: in the current environment, most executives need to be good at both styles to succeed. That is, any leader who relies solely on positional authority will run into trouble; business, technology, and workforce expectations are changing much too quickly for that approach to be sustainable. But at the same time, any leader who fails to strive for perfection, who never tells and only listens, and who shares but never holds power, will also struggle to be effective.
In surveys and interviews with hundreds of leaders worldwide, we uncovered seven core tensions between the traditional and emerging leadership approaches. Those tensions create significant stress for leaders, as they are often unsure of what competencies, skills, and behaviors to exercise in a particular context. In this article, we describe the tensions, outline the dangers in ignoring them, and suggest coping strategies for balancing the two approaches.
What can executives do to navigate these tensions?
Leaders improve their effectiveness not by consistently emphasizing one approach over the other, but by developing the ambidexterity to move between the two as the context requires. The difficulty of achieving this level of cognitive and behavioral ambidexterity should not be underestimated — but it can be achieved, with focused efforts.
Self-awareness. Understanding one’s natural tendencies is an important first step. Where is your comfort zone? What’s your default position? In the digital world, leaders can gain insight about themselves from real-time feedback apps or from online forums where members of their community post comments and provide assessments.
Learn, adapt, practice. Once leaders know their natural tendencies, they can work to develop a portfolio of micro-behaviors to address the tensions that they don’t manage well. This process can be enhanced by formal coaching. That may come in the form of human coaching, or through a coaching bot, like Jolt.ai.
Contextual awareness. Becoming a more effective leader means not only expanding one’s current leadership approach to incorporate new behaviors but knowing when to focus more on one side of the tension or the other. This requires both contextual awareness and emotional intelligence — sourced directly from the leader or from the surrounding social environment.