Balancing Your Leadership Skills

Last February, I was advocating participating in opportunities that place us in tough, uncomfortable situations and encourage us to embrace the kind of change that will make us more balanced leaders.  I was giving a talk about balanced leadership to approximately 150 high school students at a local school as part of their speaker series, and I chose balanced leadership as the topic because there is a balanced leadership shortage in our country.

The Balanced Leadership Shortage

Some people may find this difficult to believe, but the reality is that most organizations have leaders with the strong operational skills needed to maintain existing conditions, but lack leaders with the experience and confidence to transform the way their organizations run their business. Many organizations face challenges that require novel, uncertain solutions, yet a PwC study of 6,000 executives performed in 2005 and 2015 reveals that just seven to ten percent of leaders have the ability to:

  • Challenge the prevailing view without provoking resentment.
  • Change course if their chosen path turns out to be incorrect.
  • Lead with engagement and command.

Just seven to ten percent? Why is this so? What traits allow leaders to effectively execute the core of their business while remaining open to trends in the market and adapting to meet them? Good leaders must strive for a balance between consistency and agility, according to a Harvard Business Review article on leadership. Let’s consider these traits a bit more.


The best performers are consistent.  They show up to work on time, plan, set goals, and achieve them.  They tend to produce reliable products that help improve customer experiences. Consider Panera, for example.  The employees at Panera work hard to ensure that I, as a customer, can reasonably expect that my favorite strawberry poppyseed chicken salad will taste the same at different Panera locations. In addition, Panera translates product consistency into their service.  Panera uses in-house delivery drivers instead of a third-party delivery service in order to ensure consistent quality and a faster delivery time, according to Darren Tristano’s article in Forbes.  This consistency is one of the main reasons I patronize Panera, but is consistency enough to ensure success?

If leaders are merely consistent, they risk becoming too rigid.  In changing environments, these leaders may struggle to adapt and may cling to old habits and practices that are no longer relevant.

With what, then, do we balance consistency? Let’s consider agility as a counterbalance to consistency


Great leaders are also agile. They are typically intellectually curious, communicate well, collaborate, continuously learn from others, and are willing to adapt to change. Customer tastes change, accelerated by new devices or even newer versions of devices, and there are leaders who adapted and met customers’ changing needs.  Remember stand-alone alarm clocks?  Now our mobile devices handle our alarms.  How about stand-alone GPS systems?  Our mobile phones and vehicles now have a GPS incorporated into them.

Agile leaders need to take caution, however.  Just as consistency can lead to rigidity, agility can lead to a lack of focus when it isn’t tempered by consistency. Purely agile leaders may be visionaries but lack the focus to execute their visions, often turning to new projects before finishing prior ones.

Strive for Balance

Few individuals are equally consistent and agile, just as few people are truly ambidextrous. In fact, According to a study that was published in Live Science magazine, approximately one out of 100 people are ambidextrous. Are you more prone to consistency or agility? Are you more naturally capable of deep focus or forming new ideas? Do you thrive in situations of chaos and rapid change, or in situations that require a clearly defined goal? You probably have a good idea of where you stand, but be sure to ask for feedback from colleagues, friends, and family.

After you have solicited feedback regarding your consistency and agility, it is good to participate in an activity that will help keep you balanced.  A good amount of management literature will give you ideas of what to strive for, but many of us actually need an activity that will encourage or force us out of our comfort zones, and I gladly introduce that activity to you — the triathlon.

Participate in a Triathlon!

A triathlon consists of three disciplines: swim, bike, run. Each of the disciplines places different demands on the body, and requires different ways of training.  For example, you do not breathe the same way when you swim as when you run.  As a long-distance runner, I foolishly thought I could apply my running methods to swimming.  I tried to “swim” across the pool several times by holding my breath too long and moving my arms as quickly as I could, powering my way to the other end of the pool.  I ended up light-headed and seeing spots.  I pulled myself out and realized that I actually needed to learn how to properly breathe while swimming.  After some coaching, I realized that swimming requires different breathing patterns and was more about stretching and using the right technique than simply powering through the water.

Some of you may think that a triathlon only offers a full-distance ironman, totaling 140.6 miles, but triathlon races actually offer different distances. More recently, super sprints have become quite popular for first-timers. While training for a triathlon, you will learn all about brick training, which combines two disciplines back-to-back with minimal or no interruptions, such as cycling followed by running. At first, your muscles will resist and want to keep on cycling, but the more you practice this transition, the better your muscles will adapt.

Just like muscles need to get used to transitioning from one discipline to another, effective leaders should practice transitioning from executing under existing market conditions, to anticipating, adapting to, and embracing change. Participating in a triathlon is a great activity that will help.

Your dedication and focus will be tested just as much as your flexibility, and this will push you and make you a more balanced athlete overall, just as your consistency and agility in your workplace will make you better suited to adapt to change while executing with focus.

At the end of my talk to the 150 high school students, I showed them the “Ironman Triathlon Motivation 2017 – Unstoppable” video. I mentioned that sometimes the hardest part is starting to train for a triathlon out of fear of change or failure. To quote from the video, “‘I failed’ is ten times more of a [leader] than ‘what if,’ because ‘what if’ never went to the arena. [Going to the arena] is called courage, and that’s the stuff leaders should be made of.”

I have participated in numerous triathlons over the past 15 years and this experience has helped strengthen my confidence as an athlete and has made me more willing to try new initiatives in my professional life as well.  The sport of triathlon helped me develop a mental toughness and agility that I simply did not get from any classroom or place of business.  The website contains many great resources, including free training plans, to get you started. The time is NOW.  Participate in a triathlon, it may just be one of the best leadership training activities you have ever experienced! 

Tagged With: #balancedleadership, #leadership, #changemanagement, #agilemanagement, #managementstrategy, #motivation, #performance, #triathlon

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