Math for Leaders

"Much of leadership is about finding balance between two often-conflicting activities: asserting authority and responding to others' needs" Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, Leadership Presence

It took me many years of practice as a leader to fully realize that leadership relationships with employees are very much like a marriage relationship.  In marriage, it is often not enough to meet your spouse half way. There are some days when you have to meet her/him much more than half way. In fact, it may be all the way if your spouse is not able or willing to do all that their part demands for some reason, at that particular time.

There are other days when the tables are turned and we find ourselves unable to do all we should or must for the relationship and our spouse makes the majority or all of the effort.  In the end, the right things happen and we are both the better for the complimentary arrangement that always (or usually) turns out right. It is a constantly adjusting and adapting process that ensures the best outcomes for both sides of the relationship and the greater good of the family.

This exact same dynamic occurs in organizations and it is a defining behavior of successful organizations, both large and small. Leaders and employees do it mostly without thinking about it, but we should think about it, and remind ourselves to practice it.

Also like a marriage, leadership interactions with employees must have a consistently high ratio of positive to not so positive encounters, if the relationship is to be healthy and enduring.  A respected marriage counselor told me that a healthy marriage needed to have at least ten positive experiences for each negative or slightly negative encounter.  It was not lost on me that she qualified the statement by saying "at least" and strongly implied that the ratio was actually higher than ten to one.  It was an epiphany moment for me as a leader when I realized that the same is true for interactions between leaders and employees.

I learned as well that, like a marriage, if the accumulation of negative encounters grows and the ratio of positive to negative drops too low, one of the partners will quit trying to make the partnership better.  They will simply go along at the minimum level of effort in the relationship, believing they can do no good, unable to meet the expectations of their partner and unwilling to go on trying.  It is a doomed relationship until the proper balance and ratio of positives is restored.

As leaders, we need to keep track of our contributions and the simple math of relationships.

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."— Mother Teresa

Many thanks, Keith Stalder, #17

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