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The Impact of Imbalance

Like a tightrope walker high in the air, staying centred keeps us balanced. A tension exists in staying in the duality of ferocity and warmth, results and relationships, which can wear us out if we don’t explicitly build our skills on either side. Emotional self-awareness is one of the key emotional intelligence skills. Understanding where we can tilt towards starts our deeper investigation of our strengths and our areas of development.


One way to categorise Ferocious Warmth skills is through the lens of head and heart. The cognitive work and the emotional work. These extremes were highlighted for me when working with a diverse group in a government agency on the keys to being more collaborative. A systems engineer bemoaned that too often problem-solving processes simply ignored the facts about whether something was doable. The customer-experience director responded, ‘I find the opposite. Too often the systems and fact-based approaches we use to make decisions don’t take into account the end user at all. Then we wonder why they fail.’ Two classic examples of project work done by the head or the heart, not the blend. But at least there’s acknowledgement that success needs to somehow incorporate both.

Yet most people know they have a bias for thinking more one way than the other when not consciously focussed on it. I remember learning from two of the original leaders of MBTI (Myer-Briggs Type Indicator) in the early 2000s the concept of doing a sort-of type test in the stance of your ‘shoes-off self’. We know context matters. Who we’re working with affects us, but we also deep down know that when we don’t have to worry about anyone else we tend to a more logical, head approach or a more emotional, heart approach. No judgement lies here. It’s simply where we like to go when we don’t have to think!



Many of us know the feeling. The to-do list is four metres long, everyone is after a piece of you, and you just wish you could get people to move faster, take responsibility, or make the right decisions, but they don’t, and you have to step in to fix things. For many of us, our default leadership needle tilts towards the ferocity side of imbalance.

"For some of us, as our ferocity speeds up our people meter starts to diminish."

Our need for action, finalisation, movement, decisiveness means we short circuit our thoughts away from people to hard-edged results. The pendulum swings too far from centre. This is the territory of the results-driven leader. Take it too far and we become the fearsome leader.

For leaders on the other side, as everything speeds up and stress levels rise, our results meter starts to lower and we lose sight of our vision and strategy, our purpose. The volume gets turned right up in our heads and we vigorously defend our people and get involved in stories and dramas – our own and those surrounding us. This is the territory of the relationship-driven leader. It’s all pressure and stress. As this rises further, we become the enmeshed leader.



A barometer measures air pressure. The image that comes to mind when I think of a barometer is a gold-rimmed thick dial with beautiful mix of fonts designating the weather conditions. When the air pressure is heavy the dial turns one way, when lighter it turns another way, the black arrow pointing to the current weather conditions. The measurements range from stormy to very dry. This metaphor is a useful way to describe popping out of our infinity loop into imbalance. We start drifting to one side or the other.

broken image

At our best, we stand in the centre of the infinity loop in calm balance. We stand solidly, drawing on our ability to create strong collaborative cultures built on warmth, trust and connection so that people can thrive. We’re also drawing from our ferocity, lifting the bar, asserting boundaries, achieving the measures, and using the evidence base.

Then the pressure rises. We start to swing a little. Our self-awareness helps us understand where we swing by default. Self-awareness is the number-one skill for this work. We build it by focussing our attention out, looking for the outcome.

Is it having the impact that our students and staff need?

Our own families can also tell us with honesty! When things are a little out of balance for you, where do you go?

More ferocity or more warmth? More head or more heart?

What’s your preference?

What are the descriptors your team would use when you’re under stress?

This insight is gold to a self-reflective leader.