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The 3 Balancing Acts of Leadership

Leadership, as I’ve come to understand it, is a balancing act.

When you’re the person in charge, every day there could be 100 forces pulling you in different directions.

And this is not to mention all the things that are important to you outside of work – family, friends and civic obligations.

All of these pulls have voices too. And usually they begin with the word “urgent.”

We live in a culture of “could you deliver that yesterday?” And everybody wants it yesterday.

But if you want to be a leader who fulfills your promises and accomplishes tasks in line with the mission of your organization, then you must start with clarity.

What is your job? And what is not your job? When you know what your key roles and functions are, you are less likely to end up in the minutia land of micromanaging and ineffectiveness.

Recently, I had a conversation with a group of friends that I consider to be great leaders.

They are wise, funny and make the hardest tasks all look easy. I admire their instincts.

We talked about what our jobs really look like when we’re living into our best selves and this is the list we came up with:

1. Good leaders have the ability to prioritize the leadership tasks and decisions.

This is where the hard work of leadership begins. Do you know what you need to do? And often this list can be long! Good leaders know what tasks need attention first.

Some projects and programs are more broken than others. Some problems have greater consequences when not given attention. Some disasters blow up with a bigger bang than others.

Good leaders know the difference and start planning their strategy from here.

2. Good leaders have the political savvy to know how to act on priorities.

Leaders can have all the best ideas in the world but if they aren’t sensitive to people, then they get nowhere.

I have met through the years some of the smartest men and women in the world with brilliant ideas for changing broken systems, but they have no social skills.

They have no ability to help others take ownership of their ideas, promoting them as their own.

Good leaders begin any action plans with thoughtful consideration for the people they are leading.

3. Good leaders have the courage to act.

You can have the best ideas in the world and the most political capital known to humankind and still do nothing of significance if you don’t have courage.

Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who doesn’t feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

While it is so easy to be paralyzed by fear, good leaders know that they must get themselves together, make the best decision they can and act swiftly.

We can think and think all day but there comes a time when we must stand on the edge of decision-making and jump. Confidence in our leadership ability comes as we keep jumping.

None of us, I believe, is perfect at any of these three balancing acts. Our strengths may gravitate toward one or the other.

But, if we want to be great, then we must, I believe, be good (or getting better all the time) at all three.

Kevin Hagan is CEO of the American Diabetes Association and the former president and CEO of Feed the Children. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @KLHagan.