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Review: The Well-Balanced Leader—Ron Roberts

Sheryle Moon
March 21, 2012

Ron Roberts agrees with 1970s Australian band Skyhooks that ‘Ego is Not a Dirty Word’. In fact he says some ego is essential for leaders to provide a sense of confidence and empowerment. Like all attributes however, overuse or too much ego is detrimental as it warps and expands self-identity beyond what is reasonable.

Roberts’ new book, The Well-Balanced Leader, is written from the perspective of nine attributes that real leaders need to be successful in the workplace. It champions the need for leaders (everyone if you subscribe to the theory that everyone is a leader) to learn the discipline of ‘Egolibrium’, the ability to continually readjust their behaviour to enable the organisation and the people within it to perform at higher levels of achievement.

This means not going to extremes (without careful consideration) and not acting impulsively or automatically. Balanced leaders think about the results of their behaviour and the long shadow that both good and poor behaviour reflects on their employees.

And if you’re thinking that leaders in the military are vastly different to those in the private sector, Roberts discusses the differences: in the military if the leader puts himself first the troops die; in business, profits, productivity and people suffer (sometimes disastrously: think Enron, WorldComm and Lehman Brothers).

Roberts, an experiential and accelerated learning trainer, provides a handy self-assessment checklist that the reader can complete before embarking on an analysis of these nine ‘faces’ or attribute areas.

We all know that real change only happens and sticks, when it is preceded by a change in knowledge and consciousness. Roberts makes this more palatable through the use of analogy and metaphor to instil a deeper level of understanding and a greater willingness to take the required steps on the change journey.

Like changing any habit, becoming a better leader requires practice, practice and more practice. Roberts provides a number of lessons, exercises and activities to help you reinforce the lessons of each Chapter in the nine category areas:

  1. Nonjudgemental versus Judgemental: You can always use your greatest failure to help others learn and accept themselves.
  2. Nondefensive versus Defensive: To manage defensive colleagues you must first manage yourself.
  3. Relinquishing Control versus Controlling: You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reactions.
  4. Open to Learning versus Know It All: There is nothing wrong with failing if you learn from your mistakes.
  5. Doing the Right Thing versus Doing Whatever You Want: Self-management means toggling between ego-centric desires and the other-centric needs of the organisation.
  6. Patient versus Impatient: Patience pulls, impatience pushes.
  7. Letting Go versus Holding On: Letting go empowers employees and increases the flow of information, energy and relationships.
  8. Acceptance versus Resistance: Stay calm inwardly regardless of what happens externally.
  9. Other Centric versus Ego-Centric: Creating sustained organisational success.

One of the analogies that resonated with me and helped in understanding the need for continual calibration of behaviour was the comparison between good drivers and leaders.
Roberts’ describes how good drivers continually self-correct their driving approach to consider road conditions, lane changes, surface changes, other drivers, bike riders and pedestrians. Good drivers are constantly observing what is going on around them and adjusting their own behaviour based on that feedback.

Good leaders do the same, constantly taking their cues from their employees and recognising the organisational and economic changes happening around them, knowing that “success is not so much about outward performance and tasks as about the powerful caring relationships that increase motivation and initiative”.

Roberts maintains that leaders can’t push for task and performance at the expense of human relationships. Process management alone will not deliver the expected success at a personal or business level. Many leaders keep pushing the limits on multi-tasking. However, he refers to recent research which shows that too much multitasking makes people ineffective. According to the research it can take longer to perform several tasks simultaneously than sequentially. In the latter situation you can be more efficient when you give tasks and activities your undivided attention.

I enjoyed the actual descriptors attributed to people who exhibit attributes along the continuum of good versus poor behaviours in each of the nine categories. These descriptora are engaging, and easier to remember and discuss. Some examples: SMEE = Self Motivated Empowered Experts; KIA = Know it Alls; Mentally Lazy Lugs; and Prideful Preachers.

Roberts provides an update on homilies and homespun philosophies which most self-aware, life-long learner managers and leaders will be aware of and may have applied in order to promote productivity and success. These include:

  • Myth: great leaders have control over everything all the time; truth: leaders have very little control over most of what they are trying to manage, let go of the myth and incorporate the truth into day to day activities.
  • Updated the view of a person’s ‘moral compass’ to a GPS as there are multiple ways to achieve the destination and the desired outcome. A compass suggests there is only one way.
  • Find the good in others.
  • Be compassionate, considerate and care.
  • Catch someone doing something right.
  • Give without expecting anything in return.
  • Ego is like a pile of manure, you can keep shovelling it into one big pile (acting for own benefit) or use it as a fertiliser and spread your talents and energy it around.
  • Be a neutral objective observer.
  • We have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Observe, Listen and then act.

It’s always good to see an author who is talking about being a better leader in the workplace discuss how the destructive behaviours exhibited by some people at work have a life at home where they can be equally damaging. One story talks about a successful but overbearing father whose son was acting out in an aggressive manner at school and at home and the ability to affect change in the father through awareness of the high control behaviour.

The book finishes with a section on guiding principles for the ‘well-balanced leader’. A great reminder and update for those seeking to move beyond process management to leading people in the workplace.

The Well-Balanced Leader: Interactive Learning Techniques to Help You Master the 9 Simple Behaviors of Outstanding Leadership
By Ron Roberts
RRP $29.95
Published by McGraw-Hill (purchase online)

Sheryle Moon
Sheryle Moon is the CEO of Fast Track Australia. She has more than 25 years experience in the professional services sector spanning recruitment, management consulting and ICT, including a stint as CEO of the Australian Institute of Project Management.
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