Leadership Is All About Balance
If you track the development of many of the high-tech industry’s most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll find an interesting trend.
They start out with an overpowering sense of urgency, a desperate need to prove themselves. They truly believe that they’re special, unique – that the usual rules don’t apply to them. And their instincts are to dominate and control to achieve their lofty goals.
But experience has a way of tempering those powerful drives. In time, they learn to push a little less and listen a lot more. Unbridled passion gives rise to calm self-confidence. Bright flashes of brilliance are joined by wise decision-making.
Those who stand the test of time and lead their companies to great heights do so by achieving a certain level of balance.
They don’t lose the edge that made them exceptional, but gain maturity from experience. Years of victory and defeat, love and loss, and painful lessons learned the hard way, reshape them into well-rounded managers and business leaders.
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It was definitely true of Bill Gates and Michael Dell. Perhaps Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison didn’t evolve quite as much, but their talents tipped the scales in their favor. As for Marissa Mayer and Mark Zuckerberg, only time will tell if their yin catches up with their yang.
While I may not exactly fit the category, I can certainly see how my former self contrasts with the way I now think, feel and behave. The question is, will you achieve that level of maturity, or will you some day look back in regret because you never really grew up – never achieved that balance?
Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching teaches that all behaviors contain their opposites. A show of strength suggests weakness and insecurity. To prosper, you should be generous. To understand how things work, you should not ask why, but simply observe. When you feel anxious and compelled to act, that’s a time for silent reflection.
If you’re a driven person who pushes the envelope and wants great things out of life, in time you will face obstacles that will challenge your worldview. Events will threaten to shatter your long-held beliefs and perhaps even your own self-image. Your instinct will be to hold on, to control, to fight back.
What I’m telling you is this: Don’t.
The only way to achieve balance is to be open to a much broader perspective. It’s not that everything you think you know and believe when you’re young and immature is wrong. It’s that your viewpoint is based on limited experience and therefore tends to be narrowly focused and subjective. And the only way to gain wisdom and maturity is to be willing to let go of the notion that you understand how things work and embrace the possibility that you really don’t.
That’s called knowing what you don’t know.
Look at it this way. The folks I named above didn’t make it big by looking at things the same way everyone else does or doing the same things everyone else is doing. They didn’t succeed by following the path of least resistance … or by following anything or anyone else, for that matter.
They did it by challenging the status quo, ignoring conventional wisdom, looking at things differently and taking big risks.
If you hope to achieve lasting success and balance in your career and your life, you have to apply the same logic – not just to your business and your products – but also to yourself. When things don’t go as planned, you have to have the courage to look in the mirror and face what you see. That’s where wisdom and maturity come from.
To use a baseball metaphor, when you’re standing at the plate and life throws you a curveball the likes of which you’ve never seen, you have two choices. You can make believe the ball isn’t curving and clobber nothing but air, or you can track the ball’s trajectory and connect. Sort of an obvious choice, don’t you think?
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.