Test Of Leadership

Tough Leadership vs. Easy Does It

Tough leaders are usually seen as ogres. Their exacting demands and high expectations add to stress levels. And their obsessive compulsive behavior can have a negative effect on results if they don’t understand how to control stress to get positive results without serious negative reactions.

The same kind of leadership challenge can be found in the Military. Management at all levels is faced with the decision of “tough leadership” or “easy does it” in preparing troops for combat and on the battlefield.

Good military leaders work hard to balance the encouragement of positive stress with the debilitating negative stress they confront. The best leaders know how to use positive stress to get the most out of their troops. And they know how to tone things down to when negative stress threatens productivity.

The Army is fanatical about training officers and sergeants to take care of the troops. And these well-trained leaders are fanatical about carrying out their responsibilities. The soldiers in their command don’t always realize why these leaders are so focused on having everything 100% ready: personnel, equipment, and training.

Even the most personable leaders are sometimes accused of managing “by the book” or of being too concerned with their own personal recognition and promotion.

But those who make these allegations, miss the point. Just the opposite is true.

As in the corporate arena, these “fanatical” leaders are primarily interested in the welfare of their people. They want to complete the unit’s mission with minimum personnel loss. Strict discipline, intensive and complete training, and numerous inspections are essential for combat readiness. Corporate leaders face the same type of challenges as they strive for efficient and effective productivity.

The test of leadership…

Because everyone, at every level needs to understand their boundaries, failing to enforce regulations, conduct detailed inspections, or practice combat readiness is tantamount to dereliction of duty.

The extra effort that goes into intensive training programmes creates additional stress in the unit, but less persistent commanders actually endanger their troops and their mission when they fail to schedule training that teaches troops how to deal with the hazards they will face.

Keep this in mind the next time you are tempted to relax a corporate policy. “Easy does it” might be what your employees want to hear, but you might also be failing in your responsibilities if you give them what they want.

The test of leadership means that a little “tough leadership” can give your people and your company the edge needed to compete on today’s corporate battlefield.

The test of leadership is a lot of decision making. Non-leaders don’t like to make decisions because they operate from a subjective viewpoint. They aren’t thinking about the overall health of the organization, they are thinking about who will get mad or who might lose their jobs. While we want to be sensitive to these things, the Extraordinary Leader understands that sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the sake of the organization – and they make them. Then they carry them out quickly.

If the amount of pressure is not high enough, we do not feel the need to respond and so performance is likely to be down. (Wonderfully called “rust out” in certain circles.) Have you ever gone into a shop, restaurant or somewhere on a very quiet day? What was the response and service like? This end of the scale can lead to problems from the boredom level!

Get the pressure “right” and we are triggered to respond in the most effective way – and will operate at our “optimal performance” level. Moving along towards the end, the pressure levels increase and when this is too much the response is what most people think of as the classic stress problem, “burn out”.

This rarely just “happens” suddenly. The pressures build up, the symptoms will become more and more obvious, the physiological and behavioural clues will be more noticeable. If the situation does not change, and the pressure become more manageable, the person who is at this end will probably start to become ill as the body sends out signals to say it needs to protect itself against this burnout.

The challenge facing managers with this concept is to identify what is the “optimal” amount of pressure for each person in their team. We each interpret pressures in different ways.