Building Stamina and Balancing Polarity in Leadership

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It is not this OR that. It is this AND that.

It is essential for us to listen to and honor BOTH our needs and proclivities, as well as our desire to grow and push outside of our comfort zones to evolve and become more.

This is a foundational tenet of both personal and professional growth and leadership.

So, let’s begin by talking about the importance of building stamina in this equation.

First, the need for having stamina is clear. Without it, we cannot and will not continue on. Stamina begins with a mindset of perseverance. It is also necessary to note, disciplined and committed action is only favorable as long as we are focused and going in the direction that best serves our growth and positive development. If what we choose to double down on is tied to an addiction, detrimental habit or worn-out attachment, then persevering does not bring stamina, it leads to burn out.

When we create clarity around an intention and desire to shift a pattern that no longer aligns with our current needs, this is when perseverance becomes an ally, and the stamina that inevitably will result becomes an added and crucial asset.

We are in a time where it is essential to be proactive while also changing any attitude of “I just need to bully through it.” We do need to take a look at and honor our needs to ensure we are not just “pushing” ourselves in harmful or destructive ways and that we do have what we need to move forward and persevere. It is also important to understand that it is natural to push back on anything that takes us out of our comfort zones. When we acknowledge this, we can begin to consider a positive approach to any discomfort as a chance to be open to what we don’t know and work with what’s presenting itself in order to build awareness, stamina and empowerment within ourselves and our circumstances.

No matter what we are up against, it is best to address the situation with hope and creative insight. This allows us to move forward with courage, power and strength, and in some cases, shows us that we are far more capable to handle and successfully manage our challenges than we might have otherwise thought.

In all cases, we are looking to build stamina on all levels in our lives – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. In order to do so, we must ensure we have what we need, while also understanding that growth simply does not happen without challenge. What they say of a diamond’s formation is a great analogy. The value and worth of something is often developed, honed as it were, through extreme, ongoing and consistent pressure.

It’s not about looking for the way out or abandoning the situation for someone else to handle when things get hard. It’s also not about martyring ourselves to something and suffering through it. It is about managing and working WITH the force to metamorphosize into something greater.

The lesson that this brings to leadership is significant, as building stamina through balancing the polarities of comfort and risk is a common and necessary practice for any good leader.

I truly believe we cannot effectively assess leadership by a set of characteristics and standards that are expected or prescribed. To say any leader must be this or that way is not the answer. In fact, leaders who are successful often exhibit a combination of attributes commonly seen as oppositional. Think about how much we talk about and teach the value of humility, self-awareness and collaboration in leadership, yet, when chosen, top leadership positions are often filled by those whose command seems absolute. Furthermore, their organizations are often successful even though these leaders do not demonstrate what current ideal standards would deem the “right” leadership style.

And guess what? There is room for both views to coexist. In truth, impactful leaders have the ability to harmonize their approach between moments of remarkable deference and bold confidence.

In his Harvard Business Publishing blog, Navigating Complexity: Managing Polarities, Larry Clark states, “thinking in terms of polarities is a critical shift leaders need to make to navigate complexity and is an important element for any leader’s development strategy.” He goes on to define this theory of leadership polarity by explaining, “a polarity or paradox is a situation in which opposing forces within a system pull at each other to keep things balanced.”

When we consider this more closely, what it reflects is the reality that there is no list of correct traits to ensure one will be an effectual leader. What is truly the case is that often what works is dictated by a combination of the particular situation, the specific moment in time and the approach the leader chooses to take based on what is needed most in that circumstance.

Margaret Thatcher, the English Prime Minister from 1979-1990, and Steve Jobs, visionary leader and co-founder of Apple, Inc., are two examples of leaders who perfectly demonstrated polarity in leadership.

Great and influential leaders get to be innovative and able to pivot quickly. There is a need to effectively manage and live with tension, while honoring and owning their own style across a wide range of circumstances and conditions. They can be asked to bridge the gap between any number of opposing points: confidence and humility, expectation and acceptance, stewardship and authority, people and profit, control and trust & faith.

Years ago, I attended a lecture on stress. During the talk, the speaker discussed the importance of tension and learning to appreciate and manage it. He explained that our bodies, themselves, need a certain amount of tension to ensure that all functions work properly. Further, he explained that it was tension that kept everything in place, and without it, all of our vital organs would simply fall out and cease to work.

Leaders who accept the reality of polarity and organizations that learn to work with tension as a necessary catalyst for change and innovation are able to build the necessary stamina to continue on and are better positioned to take advantage of the inherent opportunities that come from leading people. Having awareness of and being in sync with the realities of the human equation allows for a less dogmatic and expectant approach and offers more flexibility to go with one’s instincts and sense of what’s best in the moment.

Thinking about balancing polarity in leadership reminds us that our view and expectations of leaders get to derive less from the ideal and more from the actual. It is difficult to look at leadership through a lens of absolutes. The practice is acutely circumstantial, and leaders are constantly called to regulate, revamp and shift their approach to achieve successful outcomes.

At the end of the day, leaders aren’t considered great because they display strength or vulnerability, confidence or humility. They are great because they can exhibit all of these traits when each is needed most.