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Leaders Can Be Tough and Reasonable

The Balancing Act: Why Leaders Should be Equally Tough and Transparent

Bad Bosses Don’t Communicate Vulnerabilities

In her campaign for the Democratic nomination, Minnesota’s Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign has had to deal with blowback from former staff, who alleged mal-treatment. She was asked about this on a recent CNN-hosted town hall, and to be honest, I was expecting her to avoid the topic. But instead of running from it, her response was:  “Have I acted out of character? Yes, I have. Are there things that I would take back? Yes, I would, but I demand a high level of performance from my staff.”

Tough, Yet Reasonable

She was apologetic, but at the same time made the point that bosses can be tough, but also reasonable. The two are not mutually exclusive. As a boss, this way of thinking stems from having enough self-awareness to know that, while you can be a real jerk sometimes, there are valid reasons why that may be. If your subordinates understand that they may not necessarily be the source of your anger, and that you have other issues with which to deal, it may provide context to the situation and more appreciation for you as a leader. They may be able to see that there is a reason for the “madness.”

Of course, we rarely see leaders open up to this extent. Why is that?

Perhaps it’s because bosses think, “Oh, the people below me don’t need to know this stuff or it’s not their business.”

Consider this: Should you choose not to be as inclusive and you’re going to berate a team member, they’re not going to know the reasons for why you are that way. Consequently, you’re really doing them a disservice because they don’t know where all this anger from you is coming from.

[Editor’s Note: Want to read more about leadership roles? Try “Leadership: A Mindset and a Skillset,” and “Real Leadership: Don’t Rely on the Fix-It Mentality,” both by Carrie Weiner Rosenbloom]

“Front” Leader or “Side” Leader: Which one are You?

Be honest: Does everybody on your team understand where you are going as a company and what your intentions are as a leader? These questions speak to the idea of leading from the front or leading from the side.

If you are leading from the front, you’re saying, “Follow me. While I know that you may not agree with this course, I am the leader and have to take responsibility for achieving our objective now.”

Or you may be leading from the side and saying, “Here’s where our objective is. I need you to come with me and we’re all in this together.”

In some cases, we will see, examples of “Do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, “it’s OK for me as a leader to act out of place but don’t let me catch you doing it because that is not appropriate.”

Leading from the front or side is about the leader being able to articulate the mission and then continuing to measure how well the team is advancing towards the goal. As your team advances toward that goal, are you treating everybody the same Or do you set similar expectations for each individual and then not hold everyone similarly accountable for their actions?

[Editor’s Note: If this topic interests you, you may also be interested in our webinar, “HR-101: Finding, Negotiating With, and Retaining Potential Hires”]

Change Your Perspective: Team First, Individuals Second

Consider a different point of view from atop your organization: Look at what is to be done as opposed to who is doing it.

Be mindful of the fact that you and your team have something to accomplish, and it matters little who is leading the charge. Regardless of who that is, your team members need to understand what their process is, how they interact with the rest of the team, and how they can expect the team members to interact with them.

Leading and being led are situationally dependent actions. You must be insightful enough to understand what is going on with the task at hand. You also need to be articulate and clear about what those goals and objectives are.

Essentially you can say, “I’m going to try to avoid being an idiot, but there are times when you are going to look at something I have done and say, “He’s an idiot.” But I would ask you to talk to me about that, so that I can not only understand where you are coming from, but also so I can explain why my actions can help us get to where we have all agreed we need to be. It’s OK if you don’t understand that right now, but when the time comes, I need you with me.

The tender balance of toughness and transparency is one of the most challenging tasks for a leader to master. You can be a tough leader, but if you lack transparency, you may be seen as cold-hearted. You can be a transparent leader, but if you do not hold team members accountable in a firm but fair manner, you risk being seen as a weak pushover. The best leaders learn to walk the line between tough and transparent.

[Editor’s Note: Check out “Committed Leadership: Are You the Chicken or the Pig?”]

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About David Spitulnik

David Spitulnik Managing Partner, Spitulnik Advisors, LLC David Spitulnik is a successful executive with over 40 years of experience in both large technology companies and in consulting to and leadership of mid-market, closely held and family owned businesses across a variety of industries. In addition to serving as chair of the Private Directors Association’s Private…

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