3 Ways to Create Balance as a Leader

Being a leader is about being respected, which means you need the skills to create collaborative harmony, rather than friendships.

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As a leader, few things feel better than when people want to work with you — especially in our current climate of workplace disengagement. At the same time, leadership is not a popularity contest. While everybody wants to be liked, effective workplace collaboration is about more than friendship. It’s about creating balance so that teams can work together to achieve your company’s goals.

Don’t believe me?

Imagine a workplace where managers are too friendly. Managers set the tone for performance, and when there are no consequences for underperformance, employees learn that they can slack off. Even when managers attempt to confront employees, there’s a good chance they won’t take the feedback seriously. The opposite end of the spectrum is no better. When managers create a competitive all-work-no-play environment, the office culture and team dynamics can quickly turn toxic. (Look no further than Uber to see how well that works out.)

When one in two employees have left a job to escape a manager, how do you lead your team members without tipping the scales too far in either direction? Take these three steps.

1. Create a what-if culture that encourages imagination. Your employees should feel empowered to share their ideas, but it’s all too easy for them to zip their lips if they work in a demanding environment.

“When we were kids, we used to imagine all sorts of things — our what-ifs were positive,” says Loriana Sekarski, founder and president of BONSAI, a leadership consulting company. “But as adults, our what-ifs seem to shift from the world of possibilities to the world of protecting ourselves and identifying everything that could go wrong.”

To reverse this negative association with “what if,” Sekarski recommends that leaders encourage their employees to follow through with ideas, even when they’re not perfect, and to hold brainstorming sessions that concentrate only on what-ifs so no one’s inhibited by what can or cannot happen.

2. Don’t just manage — coach. You’ll be most successful as a leader when you show confidence in your employees’ strengths and motivate them to improve upon their weaknesses — in other words, when you coach them.

Use performance reviews to identify and discuss individuals’ growth areas. As a coach, work with them to plot out goals and the paths you’ll take to reach them. And when employees hit milestones, reward them in meaningful ways.

Your teammates will perform best when they’re empowered to coach each other, too. So create a work culture where employees are free to be radically candid with you — and each other — without fear of retribution.

3. Hold on to your intrinsic motivators. External validation isn’t the end all and be all of management. In fact, an overabundance of recognition — especially when it’s disingenuous — can lull people into thinking that they’ve reached peak performance.

To keep yourself grounded, hold fast to your intrinsic motivators — things like living out your values, contributing to society, and fulfilling a personal mission. These motivators are far more sustainable and fulfilling than a public pat on the back.

Encourage your employees to do the same. Help them tap into what motivates them personally — beyond money, power, or fame. Hold one-on-one conversations to find out what drives them forward, and constantly remind them of how their individual work contributes to moving the whole operation forward.

Being a leader is about more than being liked or making new friends. It’s about working with your team to fulfill a singular goal. Start with these three things if you want to become a leader who people want to work with — not just someone they want to grab a beer with.

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