Sensible Leadership – Part 1

Have you noticed that because of the escalation of TV and radio coverage, digital and social media activity and the shift of business cultures that sensibility seems a thing of the past? I’m sure its just me, but gone are the days of saying exactly what one means and being kind to others in the marketplace. (Not in all organizations, of course.) Some will disagree with this assertion and if you are in a kind and sensible work environment, you are blessed.
The pendulum of leadership styles has been swinging for hundreds of years and history has shown us that certain styles in the United States are no longer accepted within the workforce. There are still “pockets” where authoritarianism is used. Mostly, the organizations I work with have moved away from that side of the continuum into a softer gentler side of leadership. To be honest, many leaders struggle to find the right balance between strong heavy-handed leadership and a hands-off style.
Sensibility on this topic is the focus of this two-part blog. Sensible can mean reasonable, levelheaded, sane and wise. This leadership style – sensible – does not infer that this is a weak approach. For instance, a leader I coach faces a lot of pressure to conform to the culture around him. Even his superiors pressure him to display loud, histrionic and even unprofessional behaviors. They see strength in this loud and boisterous style. In our coaching sessions, we work at strategies to not only hold his Superiors’ influence at bay, but, also to work on a strong, quiet and dignified leadership style. So far, he has resisted the pressures to “go along to get along” with his Superiors. I predict this valiant leader will find success leading others, because those he leads will find a connection with his strong but gentle approach.
Here are three ideas we put forward in his coaching plan to assist him to stay true to this strong but gentle style, which by the way, aligns with his personality type very well.
1. Be clear of the specific outcome needed. Strength of leadership and management will always come back to clearly defining the outcome. A leader that predicts an outcome, clarifies what is expected and is “ahead of the game” on thinking through what is needed of others, will have strength. No loudness or boisterous behaviors are needed when clarity of vision is made plain to others involved.
2. Be strong in the beginning so that your leadership actions will not have to react later. Calmness can prevail in any challenging situation or management dialogue if it is based on what was decided upon in the beginning. This is the next best step after being specific about the outcome desired, as stated in item number 1 above. To avoid high emotions later, use strong statements about what is expected with the outcome desired. I call this “loading the front end of a project assignment with emotional energy.” Just like you want to get enough speed on your bicycle on an incline to be able to crest the hill and enjoy the downhill ride, more energy is needed on the front end of the situation.
3. Be professional throughout the leadership process. Webster’s Dictionary describes professionalism like this: the skill, good judgment, and polite behaviors that are expected from a person who is trained to do a job well. The definition expands a little when it states further: the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person. These are long-standing definitions not something I’ve made up or pushed to make my point in the blog. Professionalism, workplace decorum and a balanced leadership approach will work. In the case of the abovementioned leader, this is how he has made his leadership style successful in the middle of a challenging scenario.

In my recent book, Sensible Leadership, the twelve chapters speak to various leadership truths that pertain to sensibility. We best align with the diversities of style, background and “follower” approaches when we stay sensible. Sensible does not mean less effective but more restrained. The closer we lead from the center of the leadership style continuum, the more apt we are to be closer to the people’s various styles we are trying to lead. It is easier to match others from the middle than from an extreme. We know this. The more difficult part is trying to shape our styles as leaders enough and with enough repetition that we become agile. In a way our agility and effectiveness to lead in more diverse situations with more divergent people-styles comes from stretching ourselves. As one may do in exercise and with stretching calisthenics, our leadership can become more nimble with practice. In Part 2 of this blog I’ll add some additional tips for being sensible with leadership practices.
My book, Sensible Leadership, is ready for pre-orders at

Rick Forbus, PhD

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