Balancing Leadership Tensions: Duality

In their song “Hello, Goodbye”, Lennon and McCartney wrote,

“You say, ‘Yes’, I say, ‘No’
You say ‘Stop’ and I say ‘Go, go, go’
Oh no”

McCartney was the lead writer, and he wrote the song during a meeting with an assistant to the Beatles manager, asking for opposites to the words he found, such as stop for go, yes for now, and hello for goodbye. In the biography, “Many Years From Now,” McCartney said the lyrics deal with duality, reflecting his astrological sign of Gemini. He added: “It’s such a deep theme in the universe, the duality – male female, black white, ebony ivory, high low, true wrong, high low, hello goodbye – that it was a very easy song. to write.”

Opposing forces create tension, and exceptional leaders understand that every action has its pros and cons. Balance is the key to managing these tensions and to the day-to-day behavior of leaders. The pandemic has posed huge challenges for leaders on how to pay attention to the business while getting their teams to stay healthy, safe and motivated. We have seen many leaders rise to the occasion.

An exceptional leader can balance the needs of their organization with the needs of the business. If you don’t care about your employees, you can’t expect great results. If you don’t get great results, you can’t expect to have a successful workplace. The solution is to lead with your heart and your mind.


Competing forces, when combined, can create a powerful approach to leadership. How would you lead with these opposing forces?

  1. lead or learn
    In today’s complex world, a leader cannot be expected to know everything. Knowing when to lead and when to learn from their team members and experts to guide decision-making is critical to leadership success.
  2. Saying vs Listening
    Sometimes a leader needs to communicate the vision to his teams. Getting the whole organization on the same page requires direct communication. On the other hand, when you want them to engage with your vision, you have to stop talking and instead listen. You have to be ready to have a conversation, which only happens when you’re listening.
  3. Analytical vs Intuitive
    Often a leader has a lot of information to make a decision. If you believe data exists, you need to gather it and use your analytical skills in decision making. On the other hand, if you have no data or incomplete data, you will have to appeal to your intuition. In his book My American Journey, Colin Powell says he gathers as much information as possible before making a decision. With incomplete information, he uses his intuition to guide him.
  4. Perfect vs Good enough
    I’ve worked as a software engineering manager for over 30 years, and one of the lessons I’ve learned is about delivering software to users with sufficient quality. Software is an art, and there is no such thing as perfect software. There are always bugs and incomplete features in a release. Given the constraints of release dates and resources, you don’t have the luxury of 100% perfect software. However, we could classify the bugs and work on priority issues.
    Critical: The bug will prevent customers from using the system.
    High: Most customers will not be able to use the system.
    Medium: Some users may have a bad experience with the system.
    Low priority: Although it is visible to users, there are workarounds.
    Very low priority: Only the developer can see it and does not affect users negatively.
    Analogously to this, leaders have many decisions to make, and being mindful of perfection, but using a rule for “good enough” is key to being a good leader.
  5. Trust versus humility
    In some situations, you want to combine opposing forces. In a crisis, you want to project an image of confidence to guide teams through challenges. At the same time, you want to tell your team that you’re in this together and that you may not have all the answers. Show “humble confidence” in such situations to lead your team.
  6. Task oriented vs. People oriented.
    I came across a Tweet recently. He advised the leader to tell a team member in a difficult situation that he cared more about the member’s well-being than the results. If a manager told me that, I wouldn’t believe it and wonder if it was genuine. You see, a leader must care about results while taking care of their teams. The right way to lead is to focus on the person. You don’t need to display the results, and you don’t need to remind them that there are tasks to be done. Focus on the person and ask yourself how you can support them. Instead, they constantly assess the situation and apply their best judgment as appropriate. These leaders balance the need to be strong and to lead by empowering the team that can guide each other. They understand their strengths, see their weaknesses and strive to compensate for them.
  7. Motivating vs Empathetic
    If you are a leader who prides himself on getting results, ask yourself how much attention you give to empowering and growing your team. Do you use motivation and empathy equally, using what is appropriate for the situation? Leaders must show compassion for those they lead while strengthening their spirit to carry on.

Leading in the world of duality

An excellent leader knows how to manage tensions very well when working with his team. In 2000, Daniel Goleman, author of the book, Emotional intelligence, presented six leadership styles based on research involving 3,871 executives: visionary, coaching, democratic, affiliative, paced, and coercive. An emotionally intelligent leader will use one of these styles depending on the situation, many of them in a single day, sometimes combining two or more styles.

Leaders must work daily with opposing forces. Every decision has its pros and cons. You can manage leadership tensions by assessing the situation and using a leadership style that works for you. You get better at leading with time, practice, flexibility, and learning from each experience.

Written by Shantha Mohan Ph.D.
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