The Dichotomy of Leadership
SO MUCH OF LEADERSHIP is managing tensions. Leaders must know when to adapt. This is where self-awareness plays a big part. In a word, they need balance. And that’s what The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin is all about.
After the publication of their first book, Extreme Ownership, many people latched on to the aggressive implications of the word “extreme” and missed the more nuanced balance that a leader must have. “Leaders must find the equilibrium between opposing forces that pull in opposite directions.” The Dichotomy of Leadership is meant to help leaders find that equilibrium.
Extreme is almost never the answer. Anything can be taken too far. A leader must be able to where to be on any given continuum in any given situation. Steadiness comes to mind. Or as the Romans termed it: gravitas. Knowing what the tensions or the dichotomies are is the first step avoiding the trap of extremes. Willink and Babin offer twelve. We’ll review eight of them here.
The bottom line that leaders build on is the first dichotomy: To care about your people more than anything—but at the same time, lead them. “And as a leader, you might have to make decisions that hurt individuals on your team. But you also have to make decisions that will allow you to continue the mission for the greater good of everyone on the team.” This concept frequently gets lost on some discussing leadership. It’s easy to get this wrong. Getting it right is caring. It’s the job of leading.
Own it All, but Empower Others
The next tension is between micromanagement and hands-off leadership styles. You have to have to take ownership, but at the same time, give ownership. “With Extreme Ownership you are responsible for everything in your world. But you can’t make every decision. You have to empower your team to lead, to take ownership. So you have to give them ownership.” Leaders set the destination but ownership comes when people can help set the course.
Resolute, but Not Overbearing
When and where do you hold the line? “There is a time to stand firm and enforce the rules and there is a time to give ground and allow the rules to bend. They must set high standards, but they cannot be domineering or inflexible on matters of little strategic importance.” It’s about your leadership capital. “Leadership capital is the recognition that there is a finite amount of power that any leader possesses. It can be expended foolishly, by leaders who harp on matters that are trivial and strategically unimportant. Prioritizing those areas where standards cannot be compromised and holding the line there while allowing for some slack in other, less critical areas is a wise use of leadership capital.” It’s an act of strength for a leader—the opposite of insecurity.
When to Mentor, When to Fire
Knowing when to work with someone and when to let them go isn’t easy. “Most underperformers don’t need to be fired, they need to be led.” The balance when leaders remember that “Instead of focusing on one individual, there is a team—and that the performance of the team trumps the performance of a single individual. Instead of continuing to invest in one subpar performer, once a concerted effort has been made to coach and train that individual to no avail, the leader must remove the individual.”
Since 1980, Michael McKinney has been the president of LeadershipNow to encourage you to develop the leader in you — to become an active participant in shaping your future and the future of others. In 1980 he also founded M2 Communications as a way to manufacture and develop tools to improve your performance and enjoyment of life through the use of educational web sites, articles and multimedia presentations. He is also the publisher of Foundations Magazine—a personal development e-zine—and is the president of the CenturyOne Foundation—a non-profit organization that promotes biblical archaeology, historical and biblical research, lectures and publications on subjects pertaining to the time of the first century C.E./A.D.