In different situations, different qualities are most needed and productive—courage, diplomacy, consistency, firmness—all are virtues which have their place. But any virtue taken to an extreme and used in the wrong situation can become a vice: Courage becomes recklessness, diplomacy becomes appeasement, consistency becomes rigidity, firmness becomes brutality.
As a leader acquires power, qualities that contribute to success are affirmed and reinforced and may begin to be relied on excessively. When a leader receives only positive feedback, these qualities can be reinforced to the point where they become dysfunctional. Similarly, flaws that may be of minor consequence when power is small can become magnified with the increase of power. In either case, the leader’s talents may be eclipsed by weaknesses.
Dynamic leaders are the spark, the flame that ignites action. With vision, they generate and focus power. But followers are the guarantors of the beneficial use of that power. Dynamic leaders may use power well, but they cannot be the guarantors. In their passion, their expansiveness, their drive, dynamic leaders are prone to excess: a deal too large, a bottom line too important, a cause too righteous, an image too pure, a lifestyle too rich, an enemy too hated, a bridge too far. We provide the balance if we can stand up to our leaders.
At the heart of balance is the dual nature of the universe—I and the other—and the necessity for relationship. Genuine relationships will not tolerate extremes, which become abusive. The key to personal balance for leaders is the quality of their relationships with followers. Honest, open relationships will provide a steady stream of uncensored feedback. It is only through this feedback that leaders can accurately perceive and modulate their behavior, policies, and strategies.
Because of the unknowns, it takes courage for us to be open and direct with a leader while building a relationship.
How open is this leader willing to be with anyone?
How open can I be about myself?
Do I know how to read this person yet?
How does this individual respond to feedback?
If an issue is emotionally laden for me, how do I know my concern isn’t exaggerated, or that I’ll present it well?
As I am rewarded for serving a leader well, how do I make sure I don’t begin seeing the leader through self-serving lenses?
If we are not willing to risk whatever relationship we have built with a leader by providing honest feedback, we instead risk losing the whole dream for which we have both been working. We will grow more cynical about the leader, and the leader will grow increasingly unreal about the impact of his actions. Two essential elements of relationship are developing trust and then using that trust to speak honestly when appropriate; one without the other is meaningless. The challenge for the courageous follower is to maintain a genuine relationship with the leader, not the pseudorelationship of the sycophant.