Balance is one of the most sought-after traits among leaders. With all of the different leadership styles and approaches out there, individuals who have the ability to find equilibrium among these ostensibly opposing qualities have a distinct advantage. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, leadership consultants and the founders of Echelon Front, concentrate on the importance of balance when working with their clients.
Willink and Babin, who were members of the Navy SEALs, draw upon their experiences in combat and working as a team under high levels of stress in order to inform their leadership philosophy. Central to their outlook is the concept of extreme ownership in which a leader holds full responsibility for success and failure.
In their book, Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Willink and Babin identify several sets of seemingly conflicting leadership qualities that require balance. Here are a few for leaders to consider:
- Know when to lead and when to follow
An interesting fact about the military is that subordinates occasionally have access to information prior to or instead of their leaders. Rather than giving the orders, leaders must consult with their team members in order to establish the best plan of action. The same can be said if a particular soldier has a more effective idea.
- Be aggressive, but don’t cross the line
Leaders must establish their presence in a way that does not intimidate. The subordinates of an overbearing leader will almost never voice their ideas and concerns, which can weaken the team as a whole. Striking a balance can be difficult because getting things done requires a certain level of aggressiveness. However, a hyper-aggressive leader can be an imbalanced one.
- Stabilize your emotions without becoming a robot
Evaluating a person’s temperament is a valuable practice for leaders. However, the focus is usually on whether or not one has a quick temper. Of equal importance is whether this same person ever expresses sadness or confusion. When people are able to see the human side of their leaders, they are more likely to be willing to follow and support them.
- Demonstrate confidence, but eliminate unnecessary pride
Complacency serves as a good measure for those occasions when a leader has let pride take the place of confidence. A complacent leader assumes that she or he already knows everything or that putting in any more effort is not necessary. Teams will inevitably fail through this mindset. Confident leaders inspire their team members, and they know that overconfidence has no place.
- Temper bravery to avoid foolhardiness
Risk is a real factor in the decision-making processes of leaders. While bravery tends to be attributed to those who take risks, it should also be a characteristic of those who make every effort to minimize risk. In this sense, bravery more often than not requires patience and the ability to communicate to team members why the wait is worthwhile.
- Pursue healthy competition, and lose with class
Every environment, whether it’s on the battlefield or in the board room, can arguably benefit from a competitive spirit. Competition can motivate people to perform at a high levels and to reach their potential. However, when a plan or idea fails, leaders must take ownership of it and not allow their egos to rise above the success of the team.
- Diligently study the details, but remember the bigger picture
Minimizing risk requires a deep knowledge of the relevant details of an operation, but any given detail has the potential to divert attention from the ultimate objective. Leaders need perspective, which is a balance of particulars and the bigger picture.
- Invest equally in strength and endurance
Leaders who want to establish a sustainable business or organization must also be mindful of their own endurance. This means knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, when to jog and when to sprint. The pressure to be strong in any given moment always seems to be there, but to actually do so will cause anyone to burn out. You should accept your limitations and identify a sustainable pace.
- Demonstrate humility while maintaining a presence
Letting others lead occasionally, cutting out pride, and taking ownership of your mistakes are hallmarks of humility, but even humility has its extremes. Leaders need to stay out of the way at times to let other people shine, but they can’t completely disappear. Allowing others to lead should not equal silence from the leader.
- Become familiar with people, but remember the team
Knowing how people work and what motivates them is essential to strong leadership. Once again, the extremes can be problematic. Leaders should become acquainted with individuals, but only to the extent that their priorities do not compromise those of the whole group.
- Prove “why”—and not “that”—you are the leader
By virtue of title alone, people will know that you are the leader. In this sense, you have nothing to prove. Proving “why” you are the leader is another thing altogether. People in leadership positions can best achieve this by setting a consistent example and earning the trust of their team members.