10 Leadership Battles – And How To Win Every One of Them

DBU067In our quest to become great leaders we take on a constant stream of internal battles.   Each and every day we choose our  sides and try to do the right things, with the objective of achieving something great.

There are 10 leadership battles in particular that can make or break us, and we need to consistently be on the winning side of every one of them to reach the pinnacle of success.

  1. People vs. Process –  It’s as simple as this: a process is only as good as the people executing it.  Focus on the people first, and while you’re at it, make sure your charges truly understand the context and purpose behind the processes.
  2. Filtering vs. Push Down – Good leaders know that they need to function as a contextual “filter” for their team when directives and messages come from above.  In trying times or in stressful situations, these messages can be harsh and while that’s something leaders should handle, oftentimes if it is just “pushed down” to the rank and file in the same manner, or worse yet, with a compounded harshness, the messages will be met with anxiety and fear – not exactly the emotions needed to execute well.
  3. Trust vs. Fear – Leading by instilling fear, while it can get things done in the short term, simply doesn’t work over the long haul.  Building trust is the much better approach, although it takes a heck of a lot more effort. That’s why the “fear card” tends to stay in the deck even though we know it shouldn’t.  Keep it at the bottom by always thinking of the Golden Rule as you go about your day – it will never lead you astray.
  4. Humility vs. Ego I wrote about this at length back in March – it has to be about THEM, not YOU. It’s the knack of giving the credit to everybody else and blaming yourself.    Channel all of that ambition towards your team, and watch it blossom.
  5. Will To Succeed vs. Hope to Survive – It’s all about tone and the words you use when it comes to inspiring your team to get results – one of the biggest distinctions you can make is how you speak and act about the challenges in front of you.  Do you simply “hope” to succeed?  Or do you project a quiet determination that clearly shows you will do whatever it takes to get the job done?  As Sun Tzu said long ago in the Art of War, “An army destined for defeat fights in the hope of winning“.
  6. Empathy vs. Detachment – The “old school” of leadership used to warn us that it was a bad thing to get emotionally attached to our teammates and their welfare.  That school is now closed.   We have to understand what’s going on in their hearts and minds  – the better to pinpoint and address performance issues, as well as properly match skills AND personalities to key responsibilities.
  7. Big Picture vs. Lost in the Details – A leader needs to frequently step back from the day-to-day details and paint the “big picture”-putting each teammate’s job in the context of the business, and its contribution to overall success.  Teammates need to understand that what they do matters – once they see how they “fit”, they will more easily take ownership of what they do and how they do it.  This makes a huge difference in the overall attitude and energy of the entire group.
  8. We vs. They – This may sound overly simplistic, but pronouns matter.   If you use “I” or “they” (meaning your bosses) too much, your team will use “they” or “you” in return.  This sets up a wall between management and the rank-and-file that is very, very hard to knock down.   If you ever want everyone marching to the same drum, put “we” consistently in your vocabulary.
  9. Engagement vs. The Ivory Tower –  It’s all too easy to stay behind a desk all day dealing with all the paper, phone calls, and e-mails.  DON’T be held hostage in the Ivory Tower!   Get out in the field – engage with your teammates, roll up your sleeves, talk to customers – especially if there’s distance between you and your actual operations.  If you lose that vital contact with what’s “really going on out there“, your ability to make good decisions will be severely compromised.
  10. Leading vs. Managing – This is the big one- the ultimate battle.   The easiest way to make the distinction is just open a dictionary and read the definitions of “manage” and “lead”. Which person do you want to be?   Do you want to “direct and control“, or “show the way“?  Once we realize that it’s much more effective to guide than to control, it really becomes no contest.  We’ve won.  Game over.


  1. says

    First time I have seen your website, Terry, and I like it. Great example of an effective personal brand. Also love this advice from a practicing leader. Concur with your perspective. Keep up the great work! Bret

  2. says

    Resources are scarce these days, and that includes putting the time and money into training new managers. This is a wonderful checklist from an experienced pro to new managers out there who might be struggling. At the same time, it’s a great reminder to the more experienced ones who may have forgotten some of these key strategies.

  3. says

    Thanks Kimba, Bret and Anita for stopping by.

    Kimba, thanks for the kind words. These ideas are quite essential, so it really is a good idea to keep them in front of us – I have them on a piece of paper on my desk at all times, just to remind me.

    Bret, welcome to Half Full world! And thanks for the encouragement – that means a great deal to me.

    Anita, it’s great, as always to get your insight on my posts. You are right, many “basic” lessons are well worth refreshing every now and then. For me lately, it’s been more now than later…. 🙂

    Thanks again to all, and all the best!

  4. says

    This is a great post, Terry, on some important basics. For me the people/process dimension works two ways. There’s the way you describe: get good people to make the process work. But there’s also making sure to design the process so that those people can produce results beyond their norm.

  5. says

    Hi Remy and Wally – thanks for your comments.

    Remy, you nailed it – these look easy, and so common sensical, but yet, so tough to master. For me, it’s “practice, practice, practice”, and I suspect that’s the case for everyone.

    Wally, people/process does work two ways- you raise a wonderful point. Processes are important -but they must “fit” the people executing them.

    Thanks again, and all the best!

  6. says

    Terry – First time on your site (and went over to twitter as well). Great post and great rules to live by. Rule number 11 might be Be Positive, something that your whole site is about. I plan to write about the power of positive thought on my blog in the coming weeks.

    Many thanks – James (www.streetviewconsulting.com)

  7. says

    Hi James, and thank you Wally for that honor!

    James, the 11th battle could certainly be positive vs negative – I look forward to reading your thoughts!

    All the best to you both

  8. Matthew Dent says

    Hey Terry,
    I enjoyed this post and especially like your first step for the “Pinnacle of Success.” You can look all your want at the people but if they don’t see the larger picture the system is going to succeed. I see this quite a bit and it is challenging when operating in a system where you only see parts of the larger picture. I find my self asking the “why question” in order to understand.


    This is a distilled wisdom pill of all the knowledge that modern management literature ,analysis and studies can offer.It has all the ingredients to make a boss for the times who has leadership,mentoring,empathy,sensibility,behavioural approaches,task orientation and alignment with organisation based on a situational leadership attitude and organic communication styles with a combination of informal structures

  10. says

    Terry – I just read this post 3 times its so damn good! This is not pie in the sky, feel good fluff. There are concrete examples of companies that are knocking it out of the park who’s leaders live and breathe these guidelines.

    There was a great NPR story last week about two companies – Lincoln Electric and Hypertherm that have adopted a ‘no-layoff’ model. Concept being that you have these highly trained employees with subject matter expertise. If lower demand means the manufacturing line is slowed, then have those people that know the line best work on a project to redesign the line instead of sending them home. When business picks up, the line will be that much more efficient.

    In this one example, leaders of these two firms are demonstrating a focus on people, filtering, trust, humility, a will to succeed, empathy, big picture, ‘we’, engagement and leadership by example.

    Thanks again for putting it in our faces.

  11. LWalters says

    Your 10 Leadership Battles should be the mantra for job seekers and people in a career transition. The internal battles that job seekers face can be fierce and relentless; especially the “will to succeed or the hope to survive.”
    Great eye-opener.

  12. says

    Hey Matthew, Sureshkumar, Barry, Wally, Milan, and Lair, thank you all for your recent comments (sorry for the delay in responding)!
    Matthew, “asking why” is indeed one of the best things you could ever do as a leader.
    Sureshkumar, thanks for the kind words!
    Barry & Wally, thanks for pointing my towards the “no layoff” examples you noted – they are winning those battles, aren’t they?
    Milan, thanks too for the kind words.
    Lair, I like the idea of porting these concepts over to job seekers – thanks!

    Thanks again to all of you, and all the best!

  13. Gary Weber says

    Outstanding list. Short, to the point, and so important to be reminded of! Glad it was shared by a co-worker.

  14. Anand says

    Very good, informative and learning list. I liked the first and the last one most. Thanks for sharing the list, for sure this will help many who read and UNDERSTAND and IMPLPEMENT.


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