Leadership: An Ongoing Balancing Act

By Art Dykstra

Being a leader requires balance. Effective leaders develop a sense of proportion that, once in place, internalizes itself as an intuitive sense of balance. Having such a standard of balance allows leaders to develop a manageable approach to such tensions as task accomplishment vs. interpersonal relationships, written communications vs. personal communications, group vs. individual meetings, and base pay increases vs. incentive compensation. Likewise, successful leaders know when to use stories and when to use numbers, when to use poetry and when to use science.

Developing such a balance does not necessarily come easily or quickly. It does require a sense of mindfulness, of knowing the context and of being aware of new possibilities. Maintaining the balance also requires patience and perseverance, and the ability to set aside the ever present feeling of urgency.

Leaders work consistently to maintain the balance over many varied dimensions. One area of leadership concern that, while being of utmost importance is frequently out of balance, pertains to the priority of time. “Never let the needs of the present prevent opportunities of the future,” were words of wisdom passed along to me many years ago by a close friend and mentor.

To practice and master such advice is no easy matter. For most of us who are leaders, the well-intended planning activities designed to enable us to think ahead are abandoned shortly after arriving at the office. Accidents, incidents and unforeseen events all conspire together to lock us into the present. We confuse ourselves into thinking that unless everything is being dealt with, nothing is being dealt with. So we hurry and worry and go home tired and defeated. And the next day it happens to us again, the next week and the next month and the next year. Knowing about something (i.e., never let the needs of present prevent opportunities of the future) and doing something about it are not the same thing.

Anticipating and planning for the future requires us to extract ourselves from the addiction of urgency and to make a deliberate and conscious decision to concern ourselves and key staff with the future—every day. Such a decision requires the discipline to establish thinking ahead activities as a matter of daily routine.

In addition to matters of self leadership, very important meetings or gatherings that involve corporate leadership staff should include time that is dedicated to thinking ahead and anticipating the opportunities of the future.

Fast Foreword: 
Spring 2002