Sweet and Sour – Leadership Gem

Gerwig 2015-03-27

Do you have a big “sweet tooth?” Cheesecake, brownies, cookies, pie, candy, chocolate cake, and Twinkies? Or perhaps you like sour things? Sour Skittles, lemons, and sour gummy worms? Or, like me, perhaps you like both. On a given day, I love to eat freshly made, hot chocolate chip cookies and later enjoy a really sour piece of candy, like a “warhead” (if you’ve ever had one, you know what I mean!). As a kid growing up in Southern California, I’d often eat a lemon, including the peel, at lunch only to enjoy one of my mom’s homemade desserts, such as cherry pie or brownies, after dinner. Yum!

Though I don’t typically think about combining brownies and lemons, there are unique combinations of flavors, spices, and ideas that exist. For example: sweet and sour or chocolate and peanut butter. And, like many of you, I like these unique combinations. I love a good sweet and sour pork or chicken dish. And I can easily be tempted to eat a couple Reese’s Cups (that combine chocolate and peanut butter).

So what does any of this have to do with leadership? Well, it’s about balance and avoiding the extremes. It’s about being situational. Rarely is being at the extreme for an extended period of time a good idea. World-class leaders know that balance is important. Optimal leadership requires one to be both sweet and sour. Based on the situation, one needs to be sweet, sour or a combination. It’s not “either or” it’s “both.” It’s not sweet OR sour, it’s sweet AND sour. Knowing how and when to balance is important, but one must first start with the recognition that balance is required for optimal, world-class leadership.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of terms such as “good cop, bad cop” or “yin yang” or “head and heart” or “good and bad” or “salt and pepper” or “task and relationship.” All of these terms have something in common. They’re all describing things that are different, at times opposites. And yet in each case, there’s a reason they are often used together. For example, if you lead with the head but not the heart, you’ll won’t be optimally effective. If you focus on the relationship but ignore the task, you’ll not be very effective. If you are a boss that always focuses on being liked, you won’t achieve necessary goals. And if you’re a boss that always focuses on goals to the exclusion of building relationships with your team, you won’t enjoy long-term success.

World-class leaders know that the “right” answer lies in balance. The “right” answer lies in being situationally appropriate. There are times to be nice. And times to be tough. Times to listen. And times to talk. Times to hug. And times to kick butt. Times to laugh. And times to cry. Times to be sweet. And times to be sour.

Should you be tough or easy? Yes. Should you be focused on people or projects? Yes. Should you be nice or tough? Yes. And on and on we could go. You get the idea. “Both and” not “either or.” Great bosses, coaches, parents, spouses, and workers adjust their approach and behavior based upon the situation. Sometimes they’re sweet. Sometimes they’re sour. Sometimes they’re both.

If I simply think about the last week, there are times I’ve been tough and spoken frankly. There are times I’ve spoken softly and with compassion. There are times I’ve been demanding. And times I’ve been forgiving and lenient. In the last week I’ve cried and I’ve raised my voice.

How about you? Do you adjust your leadership style to the situation at hand? Do you know how to be sweet and sour? Or are you always the same? Remember that balance is critically important. So is reading the situation and adjusting you style appropriately. How are you doing?

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.


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