The Well-Balanced Leader
By Ron Roberts
(McGraw-Hill, 256 pages, $30.95)
We all need self-confidence, self-esteem and a healthy degree of ego to succeed. But if our ego overflows, it can lead to arrogance and an unhealthy relationship with those around us, the very people we need for success. Egotistical leaders can get themselves in trouble. Most studies of failed leadership find that ego is a factor, if not The Factor.
Consultant Ron Roberts says we should be seeking “egolibrium,” a term he coined to highlight the need for balance between ourselves and others. It’s the ability to toggle between egocentric and other-centric attitudes, values and behaviour.
“Egolibrium helps you get unstuck from the disabling power of the ego,” he writes in The Well-Balanced Leader. “Having a clear perspective about your importance (or lack thereof) in the bigger picture and larger scheme of things within your workplace is the sign of a great leader.”
Great leaders are like astronauts circling Earth in a state of weightlessness, aware of how small they are in the larger scheme of the universe. This gives them high levels of objectivity and detachment, and can make them more authentic.
He isn’t calling for no ego – just a balance. He outlines nine behavioural situations where leaders must find a better balance between being egocentric and other-centric.
The danger in each situation is that the egocentric behaviour (which is listed first) probably comes more naturally and we must work on developing or expanding the other behaviour:
Judgmental vs. nonjudgmental
Many leaders make snap decisions, without the facts, going on their own emotions and beliefs and ignoring people around them. They are also eager to criticize others, as a way of elevating themselves. Great leaders, on the other hand, see things in an open, clear, non-judgmental manner. They examine at all sides of a decision.
Closed and defensive vs. non-defensive
Defensiveness compounds other mistakes. We err, and then dig in our heels. “The ego-driven defensive leader builds interpersonal walls, displays deadly silo thinking, and can even generate full-blown turf wars,” Mr. Roberts points out. Instead, leaders must be open, maintain a broad frame of reference, and adapt themselves to people, processes and situations.
Controlling vs. relinquishing control
Many leaders are overcontrolling, micromanaging subordinates and forcing their will on others. That leads to low morale, poor communications and a risk-averse culture, with little innovation. “Paradoxically, it is only by relinquishing control that leaders can ever achieve the kind of control that is the mark of great leaders,” he says. He contends that the ability to relinquish control is the major difference between people who are leaders and people who are managers, and also between average and great leaders.
Know-it-all vs. open to learning
No leader knows everything. That’s why it’s vital to be open to learning more. The more open to learning that organizations and leaders are, the less susceptible they are to failures and outright disasters.
Doing what you want vs. doing the right thing
As leaders rise to the top, they can feel invincible, able to do anything they want. But great leaders have principles and follow them. “They choose convictions over desires, will over emotions, clear thinking and self control over the easy way out. They do the right thing consistently,” he says.
Impatient vs. patient
Many managers are very impatient. They push too hard and overschedule people and processes. (Indeed, they are often rewarded for such behaviour.) But you’ll achieve greater success if you can be patient, flexible and adaptable, avoiding panic, aiming for small successes in short periods of time, encouraging initiative, and gaining greater group buy-in.
Holding on vs. letting go
You can derail if you hold on to attitudes, values and beliefs when they are no longer useful. “Although, at times, it is necessary and even admirable for leaders to stick to their goals and hold to a course, they must also be able to face reality and let go when that’s what the organization needs,” he says. He compares letting go to shaking an Etch-A-Sketch after you’ve made a mistake, giving yourself a fresh start.
Resistance vs. acceptance
Great leaders accept the current reality, changing what they can change and adapting to what they can’t. They are like great sports figures, who accept the situation on the playing field and deal with it.
Self-focused vs. other-focused
Some leaders see themselves in everything they are doing. Great leaders value everyone, see reality with great clarity, and base their decisions on what is actually happening – not what they wish were happening.
Mr. Roberts’ schema is intriguing, and in each chapter about a specific trait he shows how to improve yourself and work with your colleagues to help them improve, too. But I found the book somewhat flat, lacking sufficient examples and the vitality to share such interesting concepts.
Financial Times columnist Mrs. Moneypenny collaborates with London-based headhunter Heather McGregor – nobody has ever seen the two of them together in the same place at the same time – in Sharpen Your Heels (Portfolio, 304 pages, $29.50), which provides career advice for women.
Emotional intelligence and behavioural economics are two hot topics and you can get a solid grounding in them with new books in the popular Dummies series: Emotional Intelligence for Dummies (John Wiley, 334 pages, $25.99) by Toronto clinical psychologist Steven J. Stein, and Behavioral Economics for Dummies (John Wiley, 360 pages, $25.99) by Morris Altman, a professor of economics at the University of Saskatchewan.
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