Saturday, March 1, 2008

Balance like Obama - A Lesson in Leadership Balance

I don't intend to use this blog as a political platform. My mission has not changed since my first post when I wrote, "I am writing this blog to start conversation and sustain study about quiet leadership."

Nevertheless, I was enlightened this past week as I listened to Barack Obama talk about balance in his book The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

Balance is one of the key elements of quiet leadership. As I write in Keep it balanced, in 3D:
The concept of Quiet Leadership includes the the notion of "balance." My vision of balance is multifaceted where balance applies to many elements of life, work and leadership. This includes, for example, the balance of work and personal life, the balance between individual needs and organizational needs, the balance of opinions that need to occur within teams, the balance required to moderate disagreement. A quiet leader strives to keep it balanced.

In his book, Obama describes balance in the same light.
Search the book and you will find 15 references to "balance." Often his discussion describes the challenge of "finding the right balance." He describes that ordinary citizens are "waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism." He talks about finding the right balance between national security and individual rights. He recognizes that it is not easy, "finding the right balance in our competing values is difficult."

Perhaps the most insightful statement about balance and leadership is the leadership action of "maintaining within himself the balance between two contradictory ideas that we must talk and reach for common understandings."

On the other extreme,the opposite of balance, is absolutism. Obama cites the negative impact that absolutism, i.e. a lack of balance, has had in our current politics. Absolutism suggests that values combined with power, don't allow balance or compromise. Balance is lost when "ideological minorities seek to impose their own version of absolute truth"

What is balance? Somewhere between balance and absolutism is the place where both passion and reason exist. As a leader, you need to make sure that you hear and recognize the passion of the people around you and encourage reason in order to foster the moderation that can bring balance to your team's actions.

I find that the words of Khalil Gibran in The Prophet nicely emphasize the importance of balance between passion and reason.
Your reason and your passion are the rudder.. and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to it’s own destruction.

Once you recognize this place where passion and reason mingle, the real work begins for leaders. Often there is no easy answer. Balance is hard but the first step is to recognize the importance of balance. This may be the primary principle that I gleaned from Obama's book. That is not a political statement.

Comments are always welcome.

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly.

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