The Dual Nature of Leadership: Balancing Support and Performance

In this podcast episode, Chris Walker discusses the contrasting qualities of leaders who are remembered for their positive impacts and those who led businesses into failure. He highlights the importance of balancing leadership’s nurturing, supportive aspects with the necessity of driving performance and achieving results. Chris critiques the idealised view of leadership promoted by figures like Simon Sinek, arguing that true leadership also involves challenging people and making tough decisions. He emphasises that while soft leadership skills are important, they must be paired with a strong focus on achieving business objectives to ensure success.

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The Anti-Guru Guru Podcast: Exploring Leadership

Good morning or good afternoon, truth seekers and nature lovers. Welcome back to another episode of the Anti-Guru Guru podcast. I’m your host, Chris Walker. Today, we’re talking about something very special to me that causes many people a massive amount of frustration. Are you ready? Seatbelt on, because here we go.

Leaders We’ll Never Forget

Over the last couple of days, I’ve used an image in the podcast over and over again, which is titled “Leaders We’ll Never Forget”. It highlights leaders who prioritised your well-being, stood by your side during challenging times, empowered you with trust and autonomy, helped you grow, and provided a safe workplace. This is all very much in line with Simon Sinek’s leadership philosophy—where everyone is loving and supportive, sharing hugs and kisses around the fireplace.

The Other Side of Leadership

However, there’s another type of leader we’ll never forget—the one who sent your business into financial ruin and caused you to lose your job. In good times, we remember leaders who gave us all the good stuff—kumbaya, hugs, and kisses—but if I look back on 50 years of business, I remember equally, if not more, the leaders who led businesses down the tubes.

Performance Comes First

What’s often missing from these idealised portrayals of leadership is the fact that performance comes first. Words, thoughts, ideas, and promises are all well and good, but they must be backed by results. The nice things on that sheet are fabulous, provided you’re making a profit and achieving your goals. You might have a really nice, fuzzy, good leader, often referred to as a spiritual leader in football, whose primary responsibility is not to win but to prioritise well-being and encourage growth.

The Real Leader’s Responsibility

In contrast, the responsibility of the real leader—the leader leader—is to win the grand final, hit targets, and drive performance. There’s a contradiction between the feel-good aspects of leadership and the necessity of achieving tangible outcomes. Many studies, such as those by Gallup or Culture Amp, suggest that the results will follow if you prioritise people’s well-being alongside company goals. However, this isn’t always true because market conditions, profitability, systems, strategies, and more can change.

Balancing Support and Objectives

Within any business, there are people who desire the kumbaya approach, and they play a vital balancing role. But there is also the need to be driven by objectives. Being all soft and fuzzy doesn’t help when the business isn’t profitable. Much of the leadership advice from figures like Simon Sinek is based on companies making massive profits, where the system itself generates revenue and the people merely support it.

The Importance of Challenging People

Nature supports, and challenges people and true leadership involves both. There’s not a single thing in the idealised list of leadership traits that talks about challenging people. Yet, this is crucial. Leaders who made massive profits and those who caused losses are remembered. Understanding that results are reality is fundamental. Words, thoughts, ideas, and promises are meaningless without results.

The Role of the ‘Bad Cop’

For every leader who embraces the supportive traits listed on the sheet, someone must be playing the bad cop. HR often plays the good cop, promoting these supportive traits, but someone in the company must focus on performance. This might be an individual leader, a higher-level leader, or the market itself acting as the bad cop.

Embracing Both Roles as a Leader

Nature’s universal laws give you an X-ray vision as a leader, allowing you to see beyond polarised concepts of support. A company solely focused on kumbaya traits will face challenges if it doesn’t also embrace performance-driven traits. Leaders must play both roles—supportive and challenging—to navigate the complexities of business successfully.

Conclusion

Thank you for tuning in to the Anti-Guru Guru show. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with someone who needs a reality check. Until next time, keep it real, keep it messy, and keep practising. See you soon. This is Chris. Have a great day.

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