By Michael Holland –

Newer leaders make the classic mistake of overcompensating when attempting to adjust their leadership style.  They see the style difference as a problem to solve while they should see the difference as a tension to manage.

Leaders naturally go to their strength with their approaches to leading.  It’s what they know and it feels right.  

  • The commanding leader evokes power, takes charge to drive to results.  The inclusive leader gets a variety of people involved in decision-making and shows concern for people’s feelings and opinions.
  • The deliberate leader provides a sense of stability, clear communication to ensure decisions are made carefully.  The energizing leader builds enthusiasm for the group’s goals.
  • The affirming leader helps people feel good about their contributions and their environment.  The resolute leader sets high standards for the group and insists on using methods that maximize efficiency.
  • The pioneering leader encourages the group to think creatively and take chances on new opportunities.  The humble leader maintains a modest, composed demeanor and can be relied upon to make decisions fairly.

Great leaders learn to lead well by managing the tensions within their leadership style.  The tension between various axis points provides the feedback to remind them of the role they are playing and/or should be playing.  As an example, the inclusive leader’s patient communication and facilitation of dialogue to enable collaboration tensioned with increasing the momentum and instilling desire to achieve results, finish strong.  

Or, the commanding leader’s full-on desire to achieve results with continually increasing momentum is tensioned with being inclusively patient communicating and facilitating dialogue to enable collaboration.

Here are the 5 tensions you need to understand and manage within your leadership style and approaches to leading.

Energy Level

The tension of the amount and type of energy to apply to situations.  The amount of energy – volume, pace, quantity – is easier to manipulate.  The type of energy is much more difficult.  Should you be motivational or enable conversations or close down conversations or be charismatic or humbling or add structure or eliminate structure.


The tension of how much conversation is needed.  It’s either more than you care for or less than you desire; more deliberately clear or energizingly vague.  You need to either be more patient or less.


The tension of how hard to drive to get things done.  Are results at any cost more important than quality results?  Are people feeling connected with the movement towards results more important than actually crossing the finish line?

People Stuff 

The tension of why do we need people and the relationships they bring with them.  Is it people are at work to work or people coming together at work gets work done?  You’re either thinking “how much time do I really need to allow for these stupid personal conversations” or “how do I get these people to show some type of emotion”.

Perceived Motivation 

The tension of what we assume is motivating people.  The lens through which we assume motivation in others is clouded with our own desire to stay motivated.  

The unbridled positive emotions of people either thrill you or disgust you.

Are new innovative thoughts/ideas — those shiny balls that pop up — inspiring, energizing or extremely distracting and annoying. 

The key is to learn to recognize and feel the tension at varying degrees of intensity in order to manage the tension.

Great leaders lead well because they recognize, feel, smell, know, hear, sense the tensions and the varying intensity of the tensions within their approaches to leadership.  They then authentically adjust their behavior accordingly.   

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  •  For you which of these statements most resonates and why:
    • People are at work to work
    • People coming together at work get work done
  • Grab a peer manager and talk through 3 of the tensions.  Where do you and they differ? Are alike?
  • Think through the phrase “authentically adjust their behavior” while replaying the mental video of you leading over the last month.
  • How would you describe your leadership style?