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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Polarities of Leadership Part 2

Authored By:

Carolee Hayes


July 18, 2023

In June, we began an examination of 7 Tensions of Leadership, exploring the polarities of:

#1 The Expert versus the Learner

#2 The Constant versus the Adaptor

#3 The Tactician versus the Visionary

#4 The Teller vs. the Listener

We contrasted the traditional leader with the emerging leader and the need to balance the polarities represented by each kind of leader.

This month we will explore the last three tensions, as described by J. Jordan et al.:

#5 The Power Holder versus the Power Sharer

#6 The Intuitionist versus the Analyst

#7 The Perfectionist versus the Accelerator

#5 The Power Holder versus the Power Sharer


Leading from positional power and making decisions independently is characteristic of the traditional approach. Empowering others and giving responsibility to those without role authority is descriptive of the emerging leader. Many traditional leaders lose highly effective workers who feel powerless and silenced. On the other hand, some emerging leaders can share too much power and lose their authority. Balance comes from knowing what one does best as well as the talents and skills of others and matching tasks and processes to empower those who can best lead the work.

#6 The Intuitionist versus the Analyst


The traditional approach assumes leaders develop “expert guts” based on experience and can effectively make intuitive decisions. Emerging leaders relay on data to reach decisions. The danger of the intuitionist approach is that decisions are made on outdated experiences, facts, and biases. The downside of the analyst approach is ignoring invaluable knowledge from past experiences. Having clear vision and standards helps to manage this polarity. That allows for benchmarking data in relationship to intentions.

#7 The Perfectionist versus the Accelerator


The traditional leader believes only perfectly complete products can be shared and delivered. The emerging leader is more adaptive and willing to experiment, risking some glitches and making corrections based on feedback. The risk of the traditional leader’s approach is delays, while the needs of the market and its stakeholders are changing. The emerging leader, on the other hand, risks possible embarrassment from less than prefect results. Flexibility is a key energy source and state of mind for leaders balancing this polarity.

How to Manage These Polarities


The authors suggest one must develop ambidexterity to move fluidly between the two ways of leading. To do so requires both cognitive and behavioral ambidexterity. That is the most challenging aspect of applying these polarities as most people have less self-awareness than required to attend to these polarities. It is common to habituate behaviors and ways of thinking and revert to them when flexibility is most needed.

Developing self-awareness begins with examining one’s own patterns, comfort zones, and defaults. The best way to explore those arenas is from feedback from your community. The digital world provides multiple opportunities for inviting others’ insights.

As one’s awareness develops, learning, adaptation, and practice are required. What behaviors might need daily attention? How might one assess changes that can be adopted through journaling, observations, and coaching? The authors also suggest what they call reverse mentoring. That is relying on the diversity in their communities to offer advice when one polarity of leadership may not be serving the organization.

How might these ideas be useful to you? What might be a step or two you would consider to assist your consciousness and craftsmanship as a leader?

Jordan, J et al. (2020). Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions. Harvard Business Review.

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