“Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them.” Colin Powell
In the title to a Harvard Business Review blog in February of this year, Herminia Ibarra poses the question “Is ‘Command and Collaborate’ the New Leadership Model.” Part of the basis for asking this question was a presentation by Peter Grauer, the Chairman of Bloomberg at this year’s Davos World Economic Forum, who observed about his leaders that “The top performers had contradictory behaviors…they had future vision but were tactically strong. They provided strong guidance but were open to challenge. They relied on extensive networks but were also capable of moving fast.”
In my opinion, the only reason to say that these are somehow contradictory or conflicting behaviors is that we are treating complementary skills as polar opposites. Yet we have known and taught for decades that the truly effective leader is flexible (See Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, circa 1960.) He or she has the emotional intelligence and skillset necessary to adapt their leadership approach to the needs of the situation and of the followers.
Perhaps part of the problem is that this either/or kind of thinking makes it difficult for leaders to see the realistic need for flexibility. I may then embark on becoming a “directive” leader or an “empowering” leader without understanding that at times, I may need to do both. When employees are lacking skill or confidence in a certain area, I may need to be directive. When they are expert at their work and need to be innovative, I need to be coaching and encouraging. These are complementary skillsets, not contradictory ones.