Tough on Standards, Gentle on People – The Leadership Tightrope


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How can we balance supporting those we lead but at the same time hold them to the highest standards?

A creative process or in fact any aspiration to achieve can be easily crushed by harsh and intrusive leader behavior. On the other hand, empowering others can bring out the best in them.

I recall the time at a place where I worked when I was about to go for a job interview.

One of my bosses told me “Cedric don’t screw up”

Another told me “You will do just fine”.

I chose to listen to the second boss and got the job. Going from a fear-based intimidating source of motivation to one of trust in my abilities was the tipping point for success.

There is nothing wrong with setting high standards. We all remember our best professors who often were the toughest on us. They expected and got great results.

A tough leader,

  1. Has a clear set of expectations
  2. Holds employees to high standards
  3. Does not compromise on key factors like ethics or safety
  4. Does not expect others to work harder than he/she is willing to work

Leaders who are supportive,

  1. Show high levels of empathy
  2. Are patient with personal/cultural differences
  3. Remove barriers and provide resources so that people can meet or exceed expectations
  4. Give praise and positive affirmation
  5. Don’t micromanage but trust people to do excellent work

So, as a leader, be tough but give your people maximum support.

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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