Leadership is a balancing act. Imagine the tightrope walker at the circus, precariously navigating from one side of the big top to the other.
If the walker puts too much weight on one side or the other, they’ll take a big fall.
And so it is for those who lead.
Of the many fine lines we have to deal with, none is more challenging than the balance we need to strike between hubris and humility.
There are times we need to step up, pushing ourselves forward aggressively, and for a brief moment in time, we become the center of attention. It’s all about us. Because if we don’t, the ship will stall, or enter choppy waters.
At other times, we must step back, and let our teammates fend for themselves, learn from their mistakes, or get the credit for the achievement. It’s all about them, so the ship will gain momentum.
If it sounds a bit schizophrenic – yes, it certainly is. But the rub of it all is that human personalities tend to fall naturally one way of the other (and don’t have split personalities), so when leaders perform their humility/hubris balancing trick, they have to go “against the grain” on occasion.
The key is to identify your “strong side” early on in your leadership learning process. Proper self-evaluation is critical – review your behavior carefully after every event cycle. Were there times that your hubris actually got in the way of progress? Or did your humility prevent you from taking control of a situation that could have been resolved much sooner?
Once you know your base tendency, the really hard part starts- putting the unnatural side into action. First, there’s the self-awareness needed to recognize a situation where this side needs to be applied, and then there’s the actual stepping up and doing it.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of very self conscious acting going on – I liken it to actually being on a stage, playing a role – so there’s the fear factor. What if I come off as insincere? If I’ve never exhibited this behavior before, will people think I’m a phony?
Granted, if you’ve consistently been on one side of the ledger, and suddenly you switch sides, it can be jarring for your team. But you have to start somewhere. Keep at it. Eventually, hitting the right mix will come naturally and you’ll start producing better results, and your team will glide along with you.
This is one of the most challenging parts of leadership – the need to occasionally “be” something you think you are not. I know that sounds contrary to quite a bit of leadership guidance that demands that we stay “authentic” and true to ourselves, but here’s the thing – I happen to believe that over the long haul, our “base” humanity will always shine through, no matter how “schizo” we may seem from one situation to the next.
Which leads to the question, which base is better? In my view, it’s humility, but that’s another post. In the meantime, get on that tightrope and lead!