7 Tensions Of Leadership | Leadership Skills & Styles
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7 tensions of leadership \ Hannington Tame

7 Tensions of Leadership

“In decades past, executives were usually taught to practice command-and-control leadership. Today they’re often advised to be more nimble, more adaptive, and less controlling. The truth is that most executives need to be able to move back and forth between those two leadership styles.”

The Harvard Business Review identifies seven tensions that executives need to manage as they choose how to behave in different contexts.

Read full report here.




Tension 1: The Expert vs. the Learner

The traditional leader built their careers by ‘developing deep expertise’ and ‘demonstrating increasing levels of competence’ to facilitate their move up the corporate ladder. In so doing, they would bring ‘superior insight’.

However, deep specialism = limited expertise = risk of bad decision making.

This means that specialists but be open to learning from others, especially when it comes to digital knowledge.

So, deep specialism + limited expertise + learning from others = growth + potential for great decision making.


Tension 2: The Constant vs. the Adaptor

Think ‘good leaders stick to their guns’. This is the traditional approach.

Yet, the new ’emerging’ approach acknowledges that that ‘in fast-changing environments, decisions often need to be reversed or adapted, and that changing course in response to new information is a strength, not a weakness.’

Balance your leadership to be flexible but still grounded.


Tension 3: The Tactician vs. the Visionary

Old school leadership approaches call for ‘operational clarity and well-defined plans’.

New approaches favour having a clear vision of the ‘where’ but not necessarily of the ‘how’.

Remain grounded, realistic and tangible – be your team’s ‘north star’


Tension 4: The Teller vs. the Listener

This tension is about the traditional approach of ‘do as i say’ vs the new approach to listen and understand first.

Listening to your team – those on the ground – makes leaders less likely to risk missing important information and picking up on nuances. By combining this with your own knowledge, this tension should be resolved.


old-style command-and-control leadership is “out” and a new way of leading is in.

Tension 5: The Power Holder vs. the Power Sharer

Think top-down vs bottom up.

Leaders no longer need to lead from the top and act independently. You’ll achieve so much more if you empower others to achieve their goals and grow.


Tension 6: The Intuitionist vs. the Analyst

Do you use your ‘gut’ to make intuitive decisions. This can be incredibly helpful when it’s based on years of experience and expertise.

However, in the changing world, data is an essential part of decision making as it removes bias.

Use your internal compass alongside data to make great decisions.


Tension 7: The Perfectionist vs. the Accelerator

Perfectionism vs failing fast.

There’s always a balance between getting it right and avoiding embarrassment versus causing delays to launches and such like for seeking perfection.

Carefully consider the decision you are trying to make, the risk and the necessity for speed.


...doing something quickly, and failing fast, is often more important than doing it perfectly.

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Photo: Richard Drury/Getty Images/Harvard Business Review



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