Ambidextrous leaders: switching between two types of behaviour seamlessly

Connson Locke presents two dichotomies in leaders’ behaviour: acting as influencers versus facilitators, and telling someone what to do versus asking for their views. By analogy with ambidexterity (the ability to work with both hands equally well), she says leaders must develop skills on both sides of each dichotomy, and they sometimes need to step outside of their comfort zones to do that.

A critical skill of leadership is using the most appropriate behaviours to achieve your goals in a given situation. Presenting to a board of directors requires a different approach from collaborating with a colleague or coaching a team member. It can be overwhelming, however, to consider the endless combinations of possible behaviours and situations.

Instead, breaking down key behaviours into simple dichotomies can help you be more effective as a leader; for example, telling someone what to do vs. asking for their views. Ambidextrous leaders can switch between two types of behaviours skilfully and seamlessly – similar to ambidextrous people who use their right and left hands equally well. Below I present two dichotomies of leadership behaviour. As you read them, notice if you have a preference for one or the other; most people have a comfort zone of behaviours that they use more easily and often. Being an ambidextrous leader means stepping outside of your comfort zone to develop skills on both sides of the dichotomy.

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