Leadership Out of Balance

Leadership is often described as the act of leading a group of people or an organization. Leading well requires knowledge, skill, and an ability to balance the immediate gratification of the near term with the security of the long term.

According to author and organizational consultant Warren Bennis, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. He also said the difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager does things right, while a leader does the right things.

Today, great leadership is rare and all too often personified in the media as famous wealthy men running big companies that return strong shareholder value. But are huge financial returns the ultimate sign of great leadership?

The corporate world generously compensates CEOs focused on quarterly earnings and meeting Wall Street expectations often at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer, the employees and ensuring the company is around in the long term. Though these CEOs may spout “customer focus” and “concern for our employees” in speeches, annual reports and corporate websites, these words seem incongruent with their actions.

In politics, our elected officials should be concerned with governing, but they currently spend about half their workday raising money in order to ensure they are re-elected. The U.S. congress currently has a 14% approval rating, which means we now trust used car salesmen more than our so-called representatives.

Today’s imbalance in leadership seems to stem from too much focus on what’s in it for me rather than what’s in it for us. Leaders who focus primarily on their own self-interest cannot possibly instill the confidence and loyalty necessary to lead others most effectively.

In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, author Simon Sinek suggests that the best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what he calls a Circle of Safety. This separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.

This Circle of Safety enables teams to be stable, adaptive and confident where every member feels they belong and are focused on the right things.

Part of the challenge in creating such a circle requires leaders at every level to maintain balance of four chemicals found in our bodies. These chemicals control our feelings, which are the primary drivers for all our decision-making whether we are aware of it or not.

Chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine function to get us where we need to go as individuals. Endorphins provide the “runner’s high,” which are able to mask pain and enable us to complete a marathon or complete a work project well into the night. Dopamine provides a feeling of satisfaction once we complete an important task on our to-do list. It provides incentive for progress toward reaching our goals.

These two are what Sinek refers to as the selfish chemicals and they provide us with short-term rewards, which can motivate us to accomplish great things and, under the right conditions, can also become addictive.

On the other hand, serotonin and oxytocin work to help strengthen our social bonds so we are more likely to work together and cooperate well. Serotonin and oxytocin are what Sinek describes as the selfless chemicals and they are sorely missing in leadership today.

Serotonin is responsible for the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things. As the boss, serotonin works to encourage us to serve the employees we are responsible for. And as the employee, serotonin encourages us to work hard to make the boss proud.

Serotonin more than any of the others is seen as the leadership chemical.

Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us direct how vulnerable we can afford to make ourselves. This social compass helps determine when it’s safe to open up and trust or when we should hold back. This might be the drug most closely aligned with emotional intelligence.

Oxytocin makes us better problem solvers and enables us to accomplish more in groups than we can alone. It has also been found to contribute to us living longer.

The goal of any leader should be to find balance. If you remain addicted primarily to endorphins and dopamine, no matter how rich and powerful you become, you will likely feel lonely and unfulfilled. On the other hand, if you are focused too much on serotonin and oxytocin, you may lack the measurable goals or ambition necessary to reach important feelings of accomplishment.

Leadership in balance requires focusing on the present and the future. It means serving customers and employees as well as shareholders. And it is a balance of short-term growth and long-term viability.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s