Are you an inspirational leader or a one-trick pony?

In a world of one-dimensional leaders, the art of pushing headlong for performance, hoarding tasks, or drowning in empathy without purpose has led many astray.  Here’s how embracing a balanced approach can transform your leadership style.

Are you an inspirational leader or a one-trick pony

We’ve all met the one-trick ponies of the leadership world. These are the leaders who have one setting, and they stick to it relentlessly. They lack nuance. As one former colleague described the clunky leadership style of a peer, “When you’re a hammer, all you see is nails.”

The pitfalls of one-dimensional leadership – prioritising performance relentlessly, snatching tasks with a “give it here” instruction, or being overly empathetic without direction – are alarmingly common.  Although each of these settings can be effective in the short term, they eventually lead to a workplace fraught with alienation, stifled growth and a lack of genuine motivation. The question is: how can leaders expand their repertoire to inspire rather than alienate?

As described in my book, Firecracker Leadership, the answer lies in mastering fifteen essential leadership skills grouped under three categories: head, hands and heart. These skills are the foundation for effective, inspirational leadership. When these skills are in abundance and in balance, you are on to a winner. When they are out of kilter, watch out; the pitfalls of the one-trick pony loom large.

Head skills: The intellect behind the inspiration

The head skills are your command centre. These skills leverage your intellect to analyse information, set purpose and envision the future. Bringing the best of your brainpower moves beyond reviewing data and cracking the performance whip; this is about applying your analysis insightfully to set meaningful goals that inspire motivation and discretionary effort from others to achieve a shared vision.

Hands skills: The action in leadership

These skills translate thought into action. From technical prowess to effective communication, hands skills are about attaining expertise, doing the work, showing the way, setting the standard for professionalism and encouraging others to learn and grow. This is where many leaders falter. They may be so focused on their ability to get the job done well and quickly, that they say, “Give it here,” taking over the doing and forgetting about the leading. This leaves team members feeling undermined and without the guidance and encouragement they need to develop and grow.

Heart skills: The compassion that connects

Finally, the heart skills. These skills truly differentiate a manager from a leader. Heart skills bring genuine care, empathy, and positive values into the workplace. Leaders who master heart skills are those who understand their team’s needs, fears, and aspirations, providing a supportive environment that encourages growth and resilience. However, the overly-empathetic leader can get lost in the moment, leaving colleagues feeling directionless.

Balancing these three elements—head, hands, and heart—is what sets a truly inspiring leader apart from the one-trick ponies of the leadership world.  Achieving balance in your leadership skills creates the results every business wants, including high-performing, motivated teams who feel valued, appreciated and recognised. Inspirational leaders rarely face recruitment or retention problems because their approach attracts and nurtures ambitious talent.

You can check if your skills are in abundance and in balance by rating your proficiency in the skills listed in my Firecracker Leadership Framework. If you are out of balance and have skills weighted in only one area, choose one or two improvement areas at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.  Work your way through the framework, maintaining areas of strength and methodically tackling improvement areas one after another.

What if you are unsure how to rate your skills and want to know if others perceive your leadership as inspirational or single-track?  Seek feedback from sources you trust to tell you the truth, or, better yet, ask a colleague to circulate an anonymous 360 feedback survey on your skills so you can gain insight and prioritise the areas you most need to improve.

Don’t despair if you sense you may be a one-trick pony at the moment. The mastery of inspirational leadership skills is there for any leader who is committed to achieving a balanced approach.  It only takes insight and a commitment to improve to start you on your way.

Sue Musson
Sue Musson

Share via
Copy link