The Myth of the Swinging Pendulum

August 9, 2022

by Stephen T. Messenger

I’m an all-or-nothing type person. For example, when driving on a hot day, I turn the air conditioner on full blast, and when I’m cold I turn it off. My wife hates this by the way. Or if it’s dessert time, I’m all in—there’s little moderation after dinner… unless I have none.

I used to see leadership styles in this same vein. Specifically, I would look at senior ranking leaders as either those who focus on the interpersonal aspect to get things done, or those who drive organizations through rigid goals. To me, this was a pendulum where you could only be on one side or the other.

I now call this the Myth of the Swinging Pendulum. The best leaders are not on one side of the spectrum, but they are people-oriented while challenging others to achieve extremely high standards.

The Interpersonal Leader

These leaders are people-centric. They get to know their team, have conversations about family and hobbies, and spend time collaborating and thinking through ideas. Interpersonal leaders seek to build consensus and bring others along with them. They shy away from conflict and seek to accomplish goals through teamwork and partnerships, but often value the relationship over organizational success.

The Standards Bearing Leader

These leaders come in with high goals and expectations. They are results-oriented and drive their team to accomplish great results, sometimes at the expense of relationships. They are firm and fair, but talk constantly about results and goals. Seldom will you see them in the break room asking others about their weekend, but always you will see them asking about progress and deadlines.

Relationships with Others Drive Results

I have fallen for the myth that you must choose to either get to know people or accomplish great things. I’m guilty because, at a young age, I saw so many leaders either drive teams while alienating them or build relationships without results. But I now realize the value of both.

The best leaders have high interpersonal skills and get to know their people on a human level so they can understand their talents and passions to leverage them to accomplish great things. People work best when they’re in The Sweet Spot of where talent, passion, and opportunity intersect. The leader must bring those three together.

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, says the leaders who obtain exponential results from their people have these four surprising characteristics which are a mix of people skills and driving results:

1. They Have a Hard Edge. They see a lot in other people and expect a lot in return. They are constantly challenging others to achieve great results and bring out the best in people’s talents. They make others feel intelligent, important, and valued by knowing their unique talents and leveraging them against company goals.

2. They Don’t Play Small. These leaders capitalize on others’ skills and talents, but don’t just step out of the light themselves. They draw out ideas and invite others to run hard and fast alongside them. They use their skills to grow other people’s talents. This is about connecting people to the vision and developing organizational talent.

3. They Have a Great Sense of Humor. We’ve all been in offices where work is work and fun happens when you get home. Leaders must create an environment where people have fun, laugh, and enjoy being there. All teams will have setbacks and failures, and instead of ripping someone’s head off, it’s better to laugh at innocent missteps and set high standards going forward.

4. They Let Their Teams Run. They know they’re not the smartest person in the room and harness the power of individuals. They identify “what to do” and allow people autonomy on “how to do it.” There are no restrictions on their teams, and they let them run free and accomplish much. Great leaders do not inhibit, they encourage.

You Can Be Both

I’ve fallen for the trap that you are either a people person or a results-oriented leader. The Myth of the Swinging Pendulum ran strong in me. But I now see that you can be both.

Disclaimer: There will be times when you have to lean more on one that the other. An urgent deadline requires a directive style of leadership with a mission-oriented focus. A tragedy in the life of an employee requires empathy and understanding. But for normal operations, we have to find the right balance of interpersonal and results-driven interactions.

Get to know your people on a human level and understand their talents, passions, and interests. Build a relationship and learn about their families and hobbies. At the same time, set challenging goals and expectations that scare people, and then go out and achieve those results as a team. Leverage people’s unique skillsets and innovative ideas to make things happen.

It’s our job to create an environment that gets things done while valuing people. It’s our job to do both.

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