I will never forget the time when I first heard the above statement. I was fairly new to the corporate environment when I was in a session where David Glass, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores (at the time) was speaking to a group of us who were responsible for training managers, district managers and various others in leadership and supervisory positions. He told us to be sure that we get this message across to them. As I absorbed this statement, it helped me understand the importance and challenge of leadership. I understood that leaders are the people who manage the many paradoxes common to highly effective businesses.
I truly believe this is one of the reasons leaders are paid the differential. They live in the constant tension of determining what is good for the customers, the shareholders, and the stakeholders (and there are lots of stakeholders). They frequently have to discern which corporate value should take precedence in a particular situation. For example, companies tend to value customers and customer service, and they also value their employees and hope they feel engaged and a part of a cohesive team. It is easy to come up with things a leader can do for customers and for team members to help them feel appreciated and valued. The paradox appears when you place these values along side the value of expense control and profitability. The leader must determine how to do both of these, because the reality is that one side of this equation cannot exist without the other, and that is the paradox. Leaders wake up every day facing this dilemma, trying to figure out how to maximize both sides of this equation in order to achieve the best long term and short term results. They know that their decisions are accompanied by trade-offs. They face the challenge of having to analyze the trade-offs and determine the best course of action. Sometime they have to make decisions that will a pay off in the long run. On the other hand, there are times when they have to think about the short-term in order to achieve what is necessary, knowing full well that they will have to justify the decision and the expense to their supervisors or to the shareholders.
Jim Collins, in his first book, Built to Last, alluded to these types of paradoxes when he pointed out that “gold medal companies” maintain a dynamic tension between people and profits, and work very hard to ensure that the pendulum never swings too far in either direction.
All this says to me that leadership is an awesome job and responsibility! Leaders wake up every day with the opportunity to keep all these things in balance as they focus on growing their business or achieving their vision. They have to decide which risks are worth taking and which must be delayed or simply ignored. They have to decide which capital investment is going to provide the greatest return. They have to decide which candidate is most likely to add the greatest value. They have to decide what things they can delegate, to whom they should delegate, and what things they must do themselves. They have to decide whether and how much to invest in training and developing people. They have to know when to be demanding and when to be encouraging. And on and on we could go. As awesome as it is to be a leader, it is apparent that it is also quite challenging and not for the faint of heart.
How do you handle the paradoxes of your position? Do you isolate yourself? Do you rely solely only on your own instinct or experience? Do you seek out resources you can trust to give you wise counsel?
This is why I love executive coaching. It is an honor and a privilege to be brought into a leader’s confidence to provide them with feedback and perspective as a trusted coach. I love helping these men and women work through these paradoxes and come up with the best possible strategies that will help them succeed professionally and personally.