Leadership is a balancing act

I was speaking to a company CTO one time, when he commented that he had introduced OKRs (a way of focuing an organisation’s activity), but it hadn’t been easy. In fact, he said, he thought they had made every possible mistake along the way.

This got me thinking about what this must have meant in practice. There was a desire to introduce a new way of working; there might have been general enthusiasm; but as things progressed there were problems. These problems would have resulted in some dissatisfaction among some people, corrections will have been made and… more problems would have arisen. Given the “every possible mistake” comment, we can see this cycle recurring for several weeks, if not months, before things settled down.

Successfully working through this problem-fix-problem cycle is a mark of effective leadership. It involves navigating towards a goal, while our staff express some degree of pain and discontent. A macho approach would be to press on regardless, but there are at least two problems with this. One is that our staff are free to take their labour elsewhere. The other is that without listening to staff and their concerns, and addressing them, the problems remain.

Leadership is sometimes seen as being a figurehead, standing on a hill, waving a flag, and willing the troops into battle. But the reality is that it continually involves balancing acts, and a lot of listening and adjusting in a continuous feedback loop.

Photo by US Army Africa