Yin and Yang – Finding Your Leadership Balance

By Guest Blogger

Roger Hoffmann

VP of Technology Operations at HauteLook (Nordstrom)

 (Please share this posting with your friends on various social media outlets)

As I have progressed in my career, I have come to realize that my primary responsibility is simply to make sound decisions.

Even though I am a technology executive, I spend very
little time directly manipulating technology. Most of my time is devoted to

  • Delivering value by solving problems,
  • Evaluating options
  • Making important decisions in the face of incomplete information.

In a perfect world, I’d have enough time and resources to ensure that my decisions were close to perfect. In reality, there’s no such thing since there’s almost always a trade-off on how much time I have to gather and analyze information, to build consensus or to consult with stakeholders. At some point the decisive moment arrives and a decision is made, a directive issued, a strategy defined. And this is why balance is so critical for executives to master.

Here’s my three, two, one on balance.

3 Sides – Start with a solid base

A triangle is the strongest shape in construction due to its ability to bear loads without deformation. The analogy for decision-making is the so called iron triangle of project management or software development.

Given the three variables of time, scope and resources, you can hold one constant if you’re willing to adjust the other two. The three must be in balance in order to meet the budget and schedule and still deliver the features and functionality required by the scope.

Now imagine that on this solid base, you have a balance beam on which you can evaluate options in pursuit of sound decisions. A see-saw if you will, with the triangle as the fulcrum and your options on either end.

2 Opposites – Evaluate pairs on a continuum

The secret to balance does not lie in being frozen in position in the center of the see-saw. Remaining in your comfort zone like this will never result in successful decision-making. The pace and competition of today’s business environment demands a more aggressive style in order to become and remain a market leader. We are constantly being asked to do more with less. The secret lies in exploring equally far down each direction in order to maintain balance.

Here are some examples:

  1. Strategy vs. Tactics – Failing to plan is planning to fail. Sufficient time must be taken in strategic thinking, getting the paradigm and methodology aligned to the situation at hand. But at some point you must switch to execution and the implementation of the people, processes and things required to deliver tangible value.
  2. Short term results vs. Long term sustainability – The low hanging fruit make for easy pickings and quick success stories which can build critical support for the long haul. But if you don’t address the true root causes of chronic and systemic problems or if you burn out your team with an unsustainable pace your victory will be short lived.
  3. Inquiry vs. Advocacy – Take the time to inquire, build consensus, listen and learn. Then advocate your direction, recommendation(s) and ideas with conviction.

Be willing to evaluate the results and listen to feedback frequently so you can course correct when required, but don’t be a balloon in the wind, tossed around by everyone’s opinion. Stay the course.

  1. Risk vs. Reward – Play it too safe and you’ll never see the big rewards that come from well timed leaps of faith. But if you’re reckless you can destroy relationships, companies and livelihoods with poor decisions.
  2. Stability vs. Change – The essence of good technology is that it is rock solid and the easiest way to achieve that is to never change anything. But progress demands constant change. Mastering good organizational and technology change management is essential.
  3. Thinking (analyzing, planning) vs. Acting (doing) – Paralysis by analysis is no path to success, but being a loose cannon can create chaos and mistrust. Find the balance between contemplation and implementation.

1 Purpose – Remember your ultimate goal

The circle of unity around the triangle and balance beam, is the singularity of purpose which produces the equanimity required for the purest form of decision making.

For me, this purpose is found in self awareness and the offering of my work as a form of service to others and gratitude.

Managing the ego and non attachment provide a clear mind and heart from which even the most difficult decisions can be made with confidence and conviction, unclouded by emotional baggage or a need to prove one’s worth.

What is real can never be threatened.

Remembering one’s purpose reminds us of what is truly real, and that is the best balance of all.

Previous blog by Roger: The Meaning of Work in Japan



About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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