Monday, January 19, 2009


Every leader must reach some sort of balance in the areas in which they are trying to lead. These leaders must also reach some sort of balance between the areas in which they are trying to lead.

I am not arguing that the leader should not have his or her own position within a given area. I am not arguing for wishy-washy compromise. I am not arguing for an un-grounded pragmatism.

What I am arguing for is for a leader to strike an appropriate balance of competing forces not only within a given area of interest but also between areas of interest. Notice too that I said “an” appropriate balance…not “the” appropriate balance. In addition, there is another point of contention as well. The balance that is achieved in various areas and between various areas will change over time…a balance cannot be held onto indefinitely.

The problem is that in any important area (or even not-so-important areas) of interest within the scope of a leader’s responsibility there will be competing positions…even within the group of people that are the leader’s closest allies. The same will be true when it comes to discussing priorities between areas of interest. There will be many competing positions…and those that may be allies in one area may be opponents in another…and so on.

And, within such an environment it is so important to remember that you may have to count on someone on a very, very important issue even though you fought tooth-and-nail against that person on the last thing you worked on. Even though people may oppose you there is a very good chance that sometime soon in the future you will be working with the very same person.

Achieving balance is important even if there are only two competing ideas within an area of interest. It is very seldom a winner-take-all situation. In many cases, you will be working with the “other side” in some capacity in order to carry out the goal that has been decided upon. Whether it be in government, or business, or in friendships, or in families…once a plan of action has been decided upon…it is necessary for those involved in the discussions to bind together in order to make something happen. The “winning” side is not the one that must move forward and execute the plan.

It, of course, becomes that much more difficult in the usual situation when there are multiple positions that have to be reconciled. People still have to go forward. They have to act and must avoid some form of paralization that could occur if some of the parties involved decide to opt out of the effort. Balance must be achieved so that people feel that even though they may not have gotten all they wanted in this situation that there is a good chance they may achieve more of what they want in another one.

Furthermore, as mentioned, care must be achieved in reaching a balance between different areas of interest. Here there may be more a notion of priority setting…we can do this now…but, we can only work on that thing partially at the present time…and we will have to wait a year or so before we can get to the other thing. Again, balance has to be achieved because you want to achieve a whole portfolio of objectives and not all of them can be attained at the same time. Thus, plans must be made for how the different areas will be addressed in what order and so forth.

Again, the leader will have to deal with shifting sand in terms of those that they are working or will work with on some issues, who will not be so warm to other areas and to those that they will be working with on different areas in the future. Everyone is a potential ally…and everyone is a potential foe. But, in one way or another, all of these individuals must work together in some form, on some issues, at some time in the future.

Having written this, I must go ahead and strongly emphasize two very, very important things. First of all, arguing as I have does not mean that you don’t have strong feelings about the different issues that you will be dealing with. On the contrary, it is very important that the leader have strong ideas…and it is crucial that the leader have a strong sense of who they are…and it is also a requirement that the leader feel comfortable within their own skin. That is, not only does the leader know what he or she stands for but it is also important that they know themselves and are unified and whole within their own person.

The further the leader is from this ideal the less confident they are in their ability to lead. And, the further they are from this ideal, the more they seek certainty of opinion and control over the chaos that is swirling around them. A leader with this shortcoming wants only people around them that agree with them and demand that these people be loyal through thick and thin.

A leader like this is not really a leader and will, in almost every case, fail in what they set out to do.

Second, it is not a weakness to work for balance. Reaching an appropriate balance is a secret of success. Achieving an appropriate balance is the way to build strong teams that can accomplish what they set out to accomplish. And, even though different combinations of individuals or groups may make up the team the sets out to attain another objective, the balance that is achieved within each team and between teams is vital to gaining more successes than fewer ones.

It takes a strong person who knows who they are to achieve an appropriate balance within a given area…and also between areas. Strong because they have to combine people and groups that also have strong wills. Strong because they have to lead people to work together. Strong because they have to convince people to postpone something they believe is very important until some time in the future in order to work on something right now that these people do not feel is as important as the other thing.

Barack Obama has said that he has learned quite a few things from President Ronald Reagan. I believe that one of the things that he learned from Reagan was the ability to attain balance when striving for various and sometimes contradictory goals. I don’t think anyone around would argue with the claim that Reagan had very strong views. But, he compromised to achieve balance. He sought supporters from all different positions of thought. And, he maintained friendships so that he could reach out to individuals in the future even though they might have had substantial differences on given issues in the present. In this way Reagan got a lot of what he wanted…not everything…but a large amount. By starting out with strong positions he was able to keep the balance in many areas tilted to his end of the spectrum…but, he gave in to many in order to keep the doors open and the discussions continuing. Reagan knew who he was, what he believed in, and was very comfortable in his own skin.

It is easy to pick on Bush 43 as the one at the other extreme. Bush 43 I would not call a leader. Bush 43 wanted certainty. He never worked for balance. And, he also demanded loyalty of those on his “team” above all else. I really never got a sense that he was really comfortable with himself. He wasn’t the “star” that his father was. He had very little intellect or talent. He “forced” himself to stop drinking and this effort of will was constantly in front of him as he “forced” his way through life. Objectives were either acceptable…or unacceptable…no in-between. And, he failed…with miserable incompetence…and almost everyone that surrounded him was tarnished in some way by the failure of his administration.

The main goal of a real leader is to achieve a sufficient balance in all that he or she is doing and with all the people that he or she is working with. Achieving such a balance is necessary if one is to be a successful leader…and achieving such a balance is a sign of personal strength…and inner wholeness.

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