Where Do You Fall on the Leadership Continuum?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

5 minute read

In a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled, Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions, writers Jennifer Jordan, Michael Wade, and Elizabeth Teracino outline seven leadership dichotomies that are essential to the 21st Century Leadership model. Each dichotomy, which the writers termed a tension, is illustrated as a continuum, and the natural questions that arise as readers consider them are:

  • Where do I fall on this continuum?
  • How do I practice the skill on the other side of the continuum from where I typically operate?
  • In what context would this end of the continuum be more appropriate than that end?

Getting clear, definitive answers to these questions is the quintessential benefit of coaching. In this relevant and timely piece, the writers have created a compelling argument for precisely the kind of executive coaching that we have led countless professionals through—to rapid and impressive results.

While the bulk of the article outlines each of the tensions, we would add that each tension or continuum has an underlying characteristic or value that enables 21st Century Leaders to run the length of it, end to end. For example, the authors’ Tension #1 is the Expert vs. the Learner—the extremes of which are the know-it-all and the novice. One can immediately see both advantages and disadvantages on either side, but the one trait that enables us to move freely across this continuum is vulnerability. Being comfortable with vulnerability gives us the ability to say, I don’t have all the answers, and even when I think I do, I’m willing to hit the pause button and ask what others think about this.

Tension #2, the Constant vs. the Adapter, represents the conundrum between holding fast to your course at all costs and charting a new one when the old one fails. The underlying value here is flexibility, which the long-established assessment tool we use with clients (that has also been used to assess literally millions of North American executives) consistently measures as executives’ lowest performing trait out of 38 common leadership traits.

Tension #3 is the Tactician vs. the Visionary, which relates to what we believe is the first foundational aspect of leadership: the ability to create a sense of direction. Direction is defined at the organizational level by the mission, vision, values, and strategies, but it must also be defined at the unit or team level by a leader or manager. Organizational effectiveness and efficiency are demonstrably positively influenced when there is a felt sense of movement among the employees, from the broadest of strokes to the everyday details, and the value that supports this continuum of leadership behavior is employee engagement via the alignment of organizational and personal goals and values.

In Tension #4, the Teller vs. the Listener, the writers explore the dichotomy of leaders talking more than they listen and vice versa. The underlying necessary trait here is trust—trust in team members’ individual and collective skills and knowledge, such that leaders listen to what they have to say, and trust among team members that their leader is knowledgeable, effective, and wants them to succeed.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Tension #5 is the Power Holder vs. the Power Sharer, a fairly self-explanatory dichotomy that also calls for flexibility and adaptability from practitioners. A Power Holder creates a strong sense of direction, but he or she must also be vulnerable and transparent enough to think about their contemplated direction and its likely impacts. The underlying value here is on emotional intelligence—specifically understanding the psychology of leading others.

Tension #6 is dubbed the Intuitionist vs. the Analyst, and it describes how the leader makes decisions—whether based on logic or on gut feeling. In the Myers Briggs Type Inventory, the Thinking vs. Feeling axis describes three ways of making decisions: deciding based on what we think, deciding based on what we feel, or some hybrid of the two. A modern leader has to blend them, and ironically, you have to have some intuition to know when to lean on intuition and when to lean on data! Someone that makes decisions strictly based on what they think about hard data is already at a disadvantage, because they are blocking out the intuitive sense that their years of hard-won experience has developed and honed. Willingness to grow and change is the underlying value here—and that willingness is supported by humility.

Finally, Tension #7 is the Perfectionist vs. the Accelerator. This dichotomy pits the new-school “fail fast” proponents against the old-school methodology of launching perfectly from the outset. We’ve all heard that “perfect is the enemy of good enough,” but as the authors explain, “bringing initiatives forward without ample consideration and testing can lead to embarrassing results.” At some level of an organization there needs to be attention to detail, if not by the leader themselves, then by someone that the leader can trust to dot the I’s and cross the T’s—again, trust is the operative value here.

These seven continuums essentially make up a template of the 360-degree assessment we conduct for every professional we coach. The writers’ three modes to improve or strengthen the comfort one has inside those continuums—self-awareness, practice, and context—are identical to how we use the results of 360 assessments to help rising executives expand their comfort with diverse leadership styles. The learning is in the doing, and coaching provides the optimal setting in which to do the doing.

For this week: Do you have a clear grasp on such concepts as vulnerability, flexibility, the leader-follower relationship, trust, emotional intelligence, the psychology of followership…AND how to skillfully use these at work? If any of these concepts are less than clear for you or any of your team leads, I invite you to give us a call or email today, so we can begin helping you reach even better outcomes with happier, more dedicated staff and less turnover—and thereby help you and those you lead get to where you all want to go in your respective careers.