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The Yin Yang Of Leadership

Written by: Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Are we over-complicating what should be natural?

While the leadership bench is reportedly shrinking, the age-old debate rages as to the gender balance, or lack of it, at the top table of organisations globally. In our striving to achieve numeric gender balance, are we missing a very vital point – the achievement of integration of our individual, personal ‘inner masculine and feminine pole’ as foundational to the broader essential balance of the masculine and feminine attributes of leadership at the top table i.e., the forceful, authoritative, bottom-line push softened by the complementary feminine, compassionate and empathetic, as an essential force for real success in any organisation?

‘The personal development of a human being depends on the level of integration of their inner masculine and feminine pole’ (Jung, 1961).

In examining that familiar ‘Yin-Yang’ image, the teardrop elements present as negative images of each other, yet are interdependent and inextricable, forming a symbiosis, the ideal sought for in a Leader. Nature is the interplay of dualities, with both complementary and competing or opposing characteristics (sky-earth, day-night, water-fire, active-passive, and male-female) with neither element taking precedence, rather each is valid, reinforcing the other in a positive dynamic. A leader may self-describe as ‘balanced’ or not, ‘task-oriented’ or not, ‘people-oriented’ or not; few leaders succeed in combining opposite approaches in a holistic way. This results in what we call ‘lopsided leadership’, the emergence of a dysfunctional duality, as it were, wherein one element of a pair of strengths has grown to dominate, stifle or stunt the other.

Kaplan & Keiser (2013), in examining the core dualities that confront leaders, present an interesting representation of the need to be forceful combined with the need to be enabling, the need to have a strategic focus combined with the need to have operational focus i.e., the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of leading.

In interpreting his/her responsibilities, a leader may unconsciously take the view: “If I’m bold, I can never retreat”, “if I am ‘visionary’, it is small-minded to fixate on operational details.

Forceful Leadership is about taking the lead, while Enabling Leadership is about empowering others to lead. It is the dynamic tension between the two sides which determines ‘how’ people work successfully together. Meanwhile, Strategic Leadership is presented as foresight, looking ahead and positioning the organisation for the future in a world of uncertainty, while Operational Leadership is about achieving short-term results. It is that dynamic tension, according to Kaplan & Keiser, which determines what organisational issues managers focus on.

Setting the scene for Leadership in today’s world, perhaps the Global Leadership Forecast 2021 (DDI, 2021) which summarises best talent practices and proffers key trends which are shaping the future of leadership, offers clarity as to what is expected from leaders in the modern workplace. It is the most all-encompassing research project of its kind, examining feedback from 2,102 HR professionals and almost 16,000 leaders across 50 countries and 24 major industry sectors. The 69%:31% male: female ratio of respondents, with a majority emanating from Gen X (62%), may carry particular implications for outcomes and emerging trends reported! Pivoting company operating models and human resource practices in response to the pandemic have expedited the fourth industrial revolution, the influence of AI, data and technology and their impact on the future of work. While flexible, transient and fluid work models are the new norm, top CHROs predict that developing and upskilling employees will change the most over the next decade. Furthermore, and more pertinent to the topic at hand, the role of women, minorities and intersectionality will gather even greater urgency as 72% of CHROs cite inclusion as high priority, the ideal being that the accommodation of equity, equality and inclusion will result in diversity as the norm. As leadership models are being forced to change, companies are responding with greater opportunities to lead given to young people, and by embracing women and ‘minorities’ as leaders of worth. Collaboration between male and female, young and seasoned has shifted centre stage in a technologically-enveloped future of work, resting on data, flexibility, adaptability and mobility, mobile solutions and hub work locations that attract free movement of people.

As we ponder the emerging emphasis on ‘compassionate leadership’ globally, it may come as no surprise that DDI (2021) report that leading the list of leader skills which mitigate employee burnout, is empathy – connecting with teams in an affiliative way, which facilitate coaching and delegation, both of which engender trust and positive ‘other’ regard in the workplace. In redressing former predominance of the ‘Yang’ in workplace relations, Yin-driven influence plays an increasing role in prioritising work and team cohesion in the pursuit of common goals. The most urgent future gaps emerging are indicative of the skills required for future leaders to succeed across short to median term i.e., nurturing talent, change orientation, digital acumen, strategic foresight and influence. A mere 28% of respondents reported that they are being developed in these essential skills.

Balanced Leadership, therefore, goes beyond ‘gender’; it is about balancing one’s traits and qualities, recognising, valuing and developing one’s inner YIN (feminine) and YANG (masculine) qualities. Why? In order to meet the expectations of modern day workers who are very open as to what they value most. By striking a balance, organisations will find themselves building a collaborative, inclusive and respectful environment, based on open and honest feedback, in which talent thrives. This is the essence of a healthy workplace culture, belonging to an organisation that is fair and diverse, walking the talk on values as they relate to race, gender, ethics, the environment, ESG. Businesses must balance both Yin and Yang traits in order to thrive. Heretofore, we have witnessed a societal tendency to overvalue Yang, or masculine, traits such as excessive ego, dominant, aggressive, argumentative behaviour. One could even go so far as to say it was over-glorified as desirable for both men and women to implement into their leadership style. However, leaders with majority masculine or majority feminine traits fail to achieve the balance necessary to build an inclusive work environment in which talent thrives. A balanced company needs to attract and grow best talent, to invest in innovation and remain relevant in a networked economy. A balanced company must embrace diversity of thought in an inclusive culture which is led by ‘balanced’ individuals who value extended decision-making teams and collaboration while actively avoiding the deficits wrought by lack of diversity.

When we free up willpower, transformation thrives. The most common obstacles to the creation of balanced organisational culture include the deficit of real leadership, lack of a holistic vision, reactionary leadership style and an inability to delineate between underlying systemic and symptomatic solutions.

‘Overusing a strength is underperformance’ - A leader who embraces a strength as the only truth unwittingly ignores an equal and opposing strength.

What Cost does imbalance bring?

A leader’s desire to be forceful may translate into a tendency to be abusive or pre-emptory, and their devotion to consensus seeking may be misinterpreted as chronic indecision. An emphasis on being respectful of others, too liberally used, may degenerate into ineffectual niceness but an over concentration on the bottom line may be interpreted as a pre-occupation with short-termism. The leader, who persistently overplays his /her hand, will ultimately be far less effective than otherwise possible. And so, a negative correlation emerges the more forceful a leader is, the less enabling he/she is likely to be. Conversely, the more enabling, the less forceful they come across.

When managers are rated as doing ‘too much’ of either forceful or enabling behaviour, there is a 90% chance that they were also rated as doing ‘too little’ of the other behaviour. When rated as doing ‘too much’ of either strategic or operational, an 80% chance of being rated as doing ‘too little’ of the other behaviour, was observed (Kaplan & Keiser, 2013).

So, there are two sides of the coin to each Leadership approach e.g., while being ‘forceful’ ensures one takes charge, declares intentions and pushes forward, this may translate as over-controlling, dominant and too demanding. Conversely, the ‘enabling’ leader is empowering, attentive and supportive to a the fault of being unwittingly trusting, receptive and nice to a fault. How does one achieve the dynamic tension between both sides in determining ‘how’ people work successfully together? In terms of directionality, the forceful leader who pushes for growth and innovation may be seen as having his/her head in the clouds and attempting to fix what is not, in fact, broken. While ‘enabling’ bespeaks an ability to execute efficiently and with order, balance may be achieved through being awake to the risks of rigid process-orientation and restrictive cost-consciousness. Ultimately, a leader’s versatility in balancing a long-term and short-term orientation, internal and external tends impacting the organisation, risk-taking and healthy discipline has been proven pivotal to leadership effectiveness.

When it comes to measurement, how do we lead, as viewed through the lens of DISC and Driving Forces? How might the task-oriented, dominant, highly ‘direct’, ‘dynamic’ Leader impact an organisation and its people on every level? How might the ‘D’ style be viewed or received by others in the organisation?

While it is all about the bottom line and achieving higher revenue, the ‘D’ Dominant style of leader has a tendency to view everything as a resource to be used and makes difficult decisions with ease. We must be mindful that those we lead are not motivated by the same things which motivate us. Having an ‘S’ style (Steadiness) or ‘C’ style leader (Compliance) work alongside the highly Dominant leader may be the counterbalance required. ‘S’ steadiness style are very supportive leaders who don’t require the spotlight and for that reason can render the D (dominant) and I (Influence) styles good leaders. ‘I’ style leaders are optimistic and steadfastly believe in what they are doing, using charisma to bring everyone together by creating a positive team atmosphere. ‘C’ style leadership (compliance) is task-oriented, however it is their pacing which differentiates this style from the Dominant style leader. ‘C’ prefers to focus on standards, emphasises quality and takes time to be expert on the system or product.

What are the driving forces or motivators which propel this highly Dominant (red) and dynamic leader? An extremely resourceful, intentional and commanding leader carries risks of blindspots, as indeed do all other three styles ‘I’ (Influence/yellow); ‘S’ (Steadiness/green); ‘C’ (Compliance/blue)

The blind spot is the difference between who we are and how others see us. Awareness of how we are viewed by others is essential to effective leadership. While the high ‘D’ (Dominant) style may perceive themselves as confident, others viewing its overextension will view this style as arrogant and insensitive. The optimism of the ‘I’ style may be viewed as being entirely unrealistic and exaggerated. While high ‘S’ (steadiness) want to be part of the group and are great listeners, they may be viewed by others as passive and indecisive. Finally, the ‘C’ style observes and analyses, an indispensable counterbalance for the ‘D’ style, yet may stand suspect of being cold and distant.

Asking the Hard Questions

What are the steps to achieving a Yin-Yang balanced leadership in a truly inclusive workplace wherein the only certainty going forward, is uncertainty? Nurturing self-awareness surely is foundational to openness in embracing the Yin (feminine) as a counterbalance to the forceful Yang (masculine) in oneself. This demands a commitment to change. It also demands a dedication to ensuring balanced culture at all levels and functions of the organisation e.g., identifying the male/female dimensions that are out of synch and their impact on the organisation and business. Talent management and development are key to the success of this journey.

Finally, the courage to ask the hard questions at the top table in the boardroom is the only sound route to receiving feedback which will act as the Leaders’ guide going forward:

Are leadership competences in our organisation balanced?

Is ‘balanced’ leadership development a priority?

How are current practices facilitating or impeding diversity of thought in our organisation?

Are our Teams and Leaders open to becoming more inclusive and balanced?

How may our CPD be tailored to achieve sustainable, compassionate leadership which meets the expectations of our workforce going forward?

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Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Teresa Hand-Campbell is the founder and Director of THC Consultancy Ltd., an Ireland-based company with a global reach. As Occupational Psychologist, Educationist, Business Executive Coach and certified Mediator, she educates, motivates and inspires her clients on their journey to achieving optimum potential.

Teresa specialises in all aspects of behaviour, relations, motivation and engagement at work, facilitating executive coaching, training, teamwork, career progression, recruitment drives, action mapping and strategic planning with organisations, large and small, across both private and public sectors. She has successfully coached over 400 Senior Executives and continues to lecture to Master's level in Leadership & Management in the Workplace. A WRAW Master Practitioner (Workplace Resilience And Wellbeing), Teresa is also a multi-science analyst using DISC and is a registered Test User (1 & 2) with the British Psychological Society.

A keynote speaker, Teresa delivers inspiring bespoke Talks and Training to audiences of all sizes around key topics of interest to the workplace.

A prolific writer, her most recent Case Study and bespoke Recommendations, entitled: ‘Building a Culture to Grow & Thrive’ was undertaken for Catalyst Clinical Research, a large, multi-award winning clinical development organisation with headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. Teresa’s motto: ‘Knowing ME: Understanding YOU’ rests on her belief that to know oneself is to ensure a true understanding of others we come in contact with.



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