Versatility and Balance

It helps to be focused on a few priority goals and values. It’s nice to be able to describe your mission, vision and strategy in a quick elevator speech.   For a leader to have a few outstanding character traits and to be clear for what they stand are good as well. Yet, to be successful these must be balanced with the study and grasp of diverse and complex hard and soft data and the possession of environmental, organizational, and emotional intelligence.

Balance is key.   Flexibility and versatility are essential in today’s leadership environment.   The capacity for renewal and reinvention are increasingly important as well. I’ve become convinced that one reason humility and will are level 5 leadership traits is because they are necessary for achieving balance and versatility. And they are needed if one is going to leverage renewal and reinvention to stay relevant.

Kaplan and Kaiser articulated this concept of versatile leadership in a 2003 MIT Sloan Management Review article. They framed it as forceful leadership balanced with enabling leadership, and strategic leadership balanced with operational leadership. Awareness of these types and their vices and virtues can help a leader in today’s world of rapid change, generational differences, and unprecedented ambiguity.



Confidence is important, yet better if it comes from knowing which style to lean on, rather than always leaning on the style the leader knows best. Courage is required to take the risks of switching back and forth. And, of course, leaders must work on developing their competence in all 4 styles. Humility assists the leader in recognizing the need to shift to a different style, and the need to work on developing skills in those less used styles. Will assists the leader in overcoming the inevitable bumps that come from shifting.

For executive leaders, it is often helpful to verbalize to direct reports and others from which leadership perspective you are operating in a given situation and why. Versatility is essential, yet it can have its downsides. One of those pifalls is creating confusion regarding the roles and expectations of others on the team. Are we being strategic or operational? Forceful or enabling? Am I to be using the same style?

Knowing where to start and where to shift can be challenging. Wisdom derived from experience and thoughtful reflection aids this. Wisdom complements humility and will, and may in fact be the difference between the nimble versatile leader and the awkward novice.

So, be focused and use sound bites, stand up for your values and principles, be visionary and relational, yet not too much. Be careful not to slight the detail work of change management, performance improvement, and plan execution, yet not at the expense of ignoring the changing environmental forces and keeping an eye on the big picture. Don’t forget the importance of opening up dialogue and listening to others, and when needed be a forceful leader, communicating with clarity, and reframing and renewing in inspiring ways.