The Leadership Paradox of Principled Moderation

Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Allen Slade

I have previously argued that principles of leadership are outdated. These old school principles of leadership – all leaders should be tall, male, Theory Y, 9/9 or whatever – do not tend to maximize your influence in the real world.

I strongly believe that leadership theory has failed to come up with simple, one-size fits all rules for leaders. Because of the nature of leadership science, I suspect we will never have simple principles of leadership.

I am not arguing that leaders should be unprincipled. In fact, there are principles all leaders should pursue: principles of ethics and the principle of moderation.

Moderation is essential for your leadership. Leaders who believe in the one best way tend to drive into the ditch. For example, when making a decision, leaders can interact with their team in a number of ways. They can direct the team to action, consult with the team before deciding, ask the team to participate in the decision, delegate the decision or empower the team to take action on their own. In most organizations, a moderate amount of direction, consultation, participation, delegation and empowerment will work well.

Petronius said “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” Some people refer to this as a paradox. I see moderate moderation as a gentle warning of the dangers of absolute relativity. As a leader, at times you need to be a rock in the storm. You have to take a principled stand. The people you lead expect consistency in your behavior. You will develop your own set of ethical principles. As a thought starter, here are two principles I pursue in my own leadership:

Integrity. When I make a commitment to you, I follow through. I make SMART commitments when feasible, and I keep them. If something changes, I will proactively ask you if we can renegotiate. I do not cross my fingers or give myself a “silent” escape clause that would allow me to avoid you if times get tough. If I fail to keep my commitment, I do three things: apologize, state that it will not happen again and ask how I can make it right.

Appropriate Transparency. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I let those I lead know about me, while avoiding too much information. I refuse to be interrogated, so I keep confidences with silence rather than falsehood.

Principled moderation is a potent combination. There are certain principles that should run through your leadership, like integrity. Yet, you should be moderate in most things. Your team will know what you stand for, and know that you will adjust your behavior to fit the situation. Then, you will be a rock in the storm and a shining example of moderation.

2 comments on “The Leadership Paradox of Principled Moderation

  1. Pingback: Good Goals Gone Bad

  2. Pingback: Change Intelligence: Adapters

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