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Finding Middle Ground in the Dichotomies of Leadership: Learning to Lead Effectively

March 15, 2023
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Leadership Development category.

Leadership is a fine line to walk for many people. It can be difficult to find the right way to gain the respect of a team without demanding authority and obedience, but when a leader manages to win the loyalty of their team, little can stop them. In the book The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the authors discuss the importance of not falling into the extremes of either dichotomy of leadership which exists, but rather balancing in the middle.


The Dichotomy of Leadership: Key Takeaways and Why They Matter

Leaders need to find middle ground between the extremes in nearly every aspect of their roles. As a leader, you must simultaneously care for your team while recognizing you are responsible for the results of their actions. This becomes a challenge when you stumble, but by sticking to that middle ground, you begin to succeed. For example, leaders must vouch for the teams they lead. This means you will face whatever consequences may come for their actions, good or bad. When a team doesn’t succeed, any failure ultimately falls on the leader. However, a leader also isn’t effective if they micromanage every last detail to force success. Instead, you must learn to lead your team to success while simultaneously giving them room to learn, act and work on their own, even if you experience setbacks along the way.


The Marks of a Great Leader

The best leaders are also skilled followers. They don’t assume they already know everything. A good leader will admit when their ideas might not be the best, or that a team member may have a better plan to guide them to success. When 78% of employees say recognition makes them work harder, having a leader who acknowledge and encourages innovation and solutions from team members not in the leadership role can be a major asset to an organization.

A great leader also has traits such as:

  • Organization—Great leaders know the difference between over planning and proactive planning. It’s impossible to address every possible problem that may arise. Planning for the most likely ones can help reduce pressure without overwhelming team members. By preparing for these scenarios, you effectively train your team members to apply critical thinking in other situations.
  • Humility—Leaders need to assist with growth and development, both for themselves and as a team. We all make mistakes, even the best leaders. The ability to take criticism and learn from those mistakes helps great leaders stand out, and team members tend to appreciate them as well.
  • Discipline—Being disciplined isn’t about always following the rules and never deviating from them. Leaders who rigidly enforce rules when those procedures no longer make sense for a given situation, tend to struggle to lead effectively and lose team favor. The best leaders are capable of seeing when rules need to be changed and actively facilitating the transformation.


Leadership Coaching and Great Leadership

To be a great leader, you must be proactive in your own leadership journey. You may not always have the right answers, and that’s okay. By turning to someone more experienced or knowledgeable, you are still leading your team in the right direction.

At Leadership Choice, we realize some leaders struggle with following or letting go of power imbalances with team members. That’s why we offer training for leaders in a range of fields. With leadership training, coaching and communication workshops, we strive to foster lasting change that helps leaders like you walk between the dichotomies and guide your teams to success.

Download our Leadership Guide to Emotional Intelligence