Is Your Leadership Approach Causing a Lack of Balance on Your Team?

July 11, 2023

by Bob Ostrom


I had been an art director for exactly two weeks before I contemplated quitting my job. My team was a mess not because they lacked talent or weren’t good at what they did. This was one of the most talented groups of artists I could recall working with. In fact, I had helped hire or place almost half of them. So why wasn’t my team performing up to their potential? Was it the team or my leadership skills that needed improvement?

I wish I knew then what I know now.

My team, like most teams, was composed of people who thought about and reacted to things very differently. That meant to reach them, I needed to understand them individually. Sadly at that time, my understanding was based purely on observational performance, who was meeting their deadlines and who wasn’t. To connect with them, I needed to look beyond just deadlines. I needed to understand what motivated them and how to improve communication if I wanted to get the most out of this team.


Not all poor performers are poor performers. 

My Tilt is Connection. I lean hard into team collaboration. I like to talk through ideas as a group, not just because I want to be inclusive but because I’m at my best when there is a flood of ideas to develop. In the early stages, everything is on the table, and an incomplete idea is just something that hasn’t been fully explored yet. I prefer to move quickly and try many approaches. Some people have strong feelings to the contrary about this approach. To them, it may appear chaotic or disorganized. To others, it may appear that I am unmeasured or moving too quickly, leaving room for mistakes. 

As a leader, what do you do with a room full of people whose expectations are very different from each other?

A foolish leader might choose to single out those who are underperforming and pressure them to conform. An impulsive leader might then replace them with someone who thinks and acts exactly as they do. While these approaches may seem logical on their surface, they can also quickly become a recipe for disaster. Why? Because both approaches can create imbalance. 

My approach was to lead my team from my perspective, Connection. My stars consisted mainly of Impact and Connection Tilts, who were naturally creative and had a strong drive to move things forward quickly. They were out front leading the way and tended to feed off each other's energy. These two Tilt patterns formed a bond during the creative process and were also strongly supported by management who shared similar values. To them, my approach was perfectly logical and played to their strengths, allowing them to perform at their best, the sky was the only limit. To my Structures and Clarity Tilters, however, things probably felt very different, chaotic, unmeasured, or sporadic.

While this fast and loose approach has its appeal, there are also drawbacks to contend with. Pushing too hard can cause the team to lose balance which shows up in the form of false starts, over-commitment, and having to revisit ideas that did not hold up upon closer inspection.

What my team was missing from the perspective of those who were not Connection or Impact was very clear. We were missing Structure and Clarity. In other words, we were moving very quickly, which meant our approach could have used more planning to avoid false starts. We could have been more purposeful and structured to avoid over-commitment. We could have spent a little more time researching our ideas to make sure they held water before deploying them. My approach had unwittingly become a major challenge to the members of the team, who needed clearer direction and more time to think things through carefully. Their frustrations began to show as their voices went unheard.

What happens to a team member's desire to participate when their voice goes unheard? 

Frustration led some members of my team to dig in their heels and throw up roadblocks, some questioned the logic behind decisions refusing to participate. Others who were less assertive simply chose to withdraw. A lack of understanding might lead management to view these behaviors as disruptive or an impediment to progress. A deeper investigation could also reveal that these viewpoints hold a certain value and should be examined more closely by the team leader. 

My observations as an inexperienced team leader led me to believe part of my team was underperforming. What I needed to understand was that if I wanted to support my entire team, I needed to restructure my approach valuing and leveraging each person’s strengths. My team was out of balance because my approach was out of balance. I had leaned too hard into Connection and Impact, and as a result, we had experienced many of the problems associated with losing balance in that direction. 

Steps to correct the imbalance

It’s important to note that while the burden tends to fall on leadership, the problem is more widespread. Each member of the team is also responsible for their level or participation and how their behavior affects the rest of the team. It isn’t as simple as just listening to your team and adjusting your role. This is about the entire team's understanding:

  • Who they are?

  • How they show up for others, and the value they bring to the team.

  • What motivates them?

  • What are their defaults in times of stress?

  • How to support each other in ways that best relate to their individual approaches. 

  • Understanding their own behaviors, particularly when their stress reactions were impeding others.

Now if that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. There are things you can do that will lead you to this level of understanding very quickly. One of the best is having team members take an assessment to find who they truly are and what motivates them. An assessment will take the guesswork out of where you and your team stand with your personality traits. You will understand that while these are preferences, they are also not carved in stone. People can change by creating situational awareness and intentionally Tilting in the direction that will drive success in that very moment. Your team can learn to pivot and fill in the gaps where things are missing. They will also learn to support each other in ways that relate to their strengths rather than exploiting weaknesses and leaning on unrealistic expectations because a balanced team performs best.