There are many paradoxes in the world of leadership and management which are seen at all levels and in all situations.


This week we explore the two opposed truisms that you need to be focused and that you need to be open.


Any accomplished leader will tell you that you need to be open. You need to be able to foresee changes; listen to stakeholders such as staff, clients, investors or voters; you need to adapt; you need to embrace new methods.

The same leaders will also tell you about the value of focus. How deviation and drift is costly, and how goals and values that are known, shared and lived deliver results.


So how to consider the two?

The trick is to be both but to be clear as to when and how you’re choosing the right ‘mode’.

First of all, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to either choose the entire strategy, or certainly how you’re going to accomplish your part of it.

At this stage you should be open to possibilities, thoughts, opinions and options. These are extremely helpful and allow you to make good choices. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything or take everything on board, but it gives you valuable information on how to pick the right direction and what the stakeholder challenges that will need to be communicated will be.

Once done you’re switching mode. Your plan is ‘fixed’ and you can be focused. Effective leaders have ways to continuously keep the plan in mind. From meetings and intranets to results boards and speeches.


However, as the saying goes, no plan withstands contact with the enemy

In other words, your focused plan will need to move, change and take a little redirection here and there. So you’re back to being open.

Being able to do this and pick the right mode on any scale is a key leadership skill. Communicating your decisions is the important conduit from those decisions to engagement and performance. This is true on any scale from completing tasks successfully to running whole campaigns or organisations.

It’s easy to find examples of where these things are done badly. We all know an underperforming manager somewhere who never listens and thinks they’re right. We all know an underperforming manager somewhere who changes direction so often it’s hard to know what’s happening. On a larger scale; Blockbuster, Kodak, Woolworths, Debenhams.

Knowing when to pick the right mode and communicating it is a sign of a strong leader.


For further information:

Organisational Leadership Skills

Strategic Thinking and Decision Making

Managing Performance and Efficiency