Breaking Down the Importance of Versatility in Business Leadership

Breaking Down the Importance of Versatility in Business Leadership
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Modern business leaders must often jump between different leadership styles, which means developing a wide range of different skills and qualities. Most people believe that poor leadership stems from a lack of core skills in communication, critical thinking, delegation, and the art of motivation. However, it is important to recognize that any strength taken to the extreme can actually become a weakness.

You won’t often see many articles about “overdoing it” when it comes to a certain leadership skill, perhaps because leaders sometimes do have to go to extremes when the job demands it. However, versatility is also a virtue for leaders. Success in the modern market depends on versatility and the ability to shift leadership approaches for the circumstances at hand.

What Does It Look Like When Leaders Lack Versatility?

As a general example, leaders need to think about both strategy, or long-term direction, and operations, or short-term results, simultaneously. Good leaders understand the importance of balancing the short-term with the long-term and the serious issues that can result when concentrating on one over the other for too long. The strategic leader needs to think broadly about their organization and its potential for growth, while the operational leader must be involved with daily processes and procedures. The best leaders have the versatility to embrace both at the same time and make them work together harmoniously. Strategy shows leaders where they’re going, while operations help them lay the path toward that goal.

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Another example involves the difference between forceful and enabling leaders. A forceful leader takes charge, makes decisions, and sets the bar high for employees while holding them accountable. In contrast, the enabling leader makes employees feel empowered and wins people over to their side while attending to their needs and looking at failure with compassion.

These two models of leadership have clear differences, and leaders may naturally gravitate toward one depending on their personality. However, versatility means recognizing that both styles are valuable and understanding when and how to embrace each of them. Failing to recognize the importance of both leadership styles can produce a leader who is lopsided—perhaps even extreme in their tactics.

What Is the Fundamental Problem with Imbalanced Leadership?

Lopsided leaders lack fundamental skills. Often, leaders tend to err on the side of forcefulness, because they believe that they are meant to make all the decisions. Others may let go of the reins too often and delegate too much. Being abrasive, or even abusive, won’t win a leader any respect, but neither will placing all responsibility in the hands of other people. While these examples represent extremes, leaders should think critically about where they fall on the spectrum and how readily they can move to the other side when necessary. At times, a quick executive decision is critical. At others, it’s wiser for the leader to take more of a backseat role and allow discussion and consensus to prevail. Versatile leaders can read any situation and pivot quickly between these two styles.

What Are the Root Causes of Imbalanced, Lopsided Leadership?

Imbalanced leadership can stem from a number of different factors. Sometimes, it’s due to a narrow focus on developing just a few specific skills over others. This can be the result of the leader’s natural tendencies, poor training or bad habits established early in their career, a lack of confidence, or just bad advice when they joined the organization. (“This is how we do things here!”) Frequently, the imbalance stems from false or misguided beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about what people need—or overgeneralizations.  

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For example, a manager may believe that an employee who wants autonomy needs no guidance, when what they really need is less micromanagement. Executives may also underemphasize the skills they do not consider important to their jobs, or overemphasize those they think are the most important. This can stem from a fear of inadequacy. It’s therefore critical that leaders have a clear understanding of why balance is so important.

What Can Leaders Do to Restore Balance and Versatility?

Luckily, leaders have options when they realize that they lack versatility and have become lopsided executives. The first step in addressing a lack of versatility is identifying the root cause of the problem and working to improve any skills that are lacking.

Importantly, becoming versatile does not only mean acquiring new skills, but also doing the cognitive work to figure out why the issue arose in the first place. For example, the leader may need to ask themselves, “Why do I tend to micromanage people who question my decisions publicly?” The adjustment must involve not only the intellect, but also internalized values and behaviors. Sometimes, this step involves addressing a fear of change—for example, the leader may need to consider what might happen if they delegate more responsibilities, even though that may be extremely uncomfortable for them. Reducing their reliance on one skill can be difficult, but it’s often necessary for excellent leadership.