Riding the Leadership Teeter-Totter

A man balancing on a teeter-totter
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The leader’s job is a schizophrenic balancing act between two extremes: fraternization and domination. Those two extremes can be explained visually as a teeter-totter.

On one end, there’s the leader who joins the crew and connects with people personally. The leader enters the room and employees relax. Their faces brighten. They smile and open up. Employees freely talk about their observations and opinions.

leadership teeter-totter tilted to the left

The leader who, in contrast, insists on controlling everything is someone most people don’t want to connect with. When that leader enters the room, employees tense up. They are on guard and hold back. They monitor the leader as he or she moves around the room, and when that leader leaves the room, they relax.

leadership teeter-totter tilted to the right


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A leader who is too much a member of the crew lacks the necessary influence to get things done, and the teeter-totter crashes to the left. A leader who is too much the dictator lacks the commitment necessary to partner with employees, and the teeter-totter again crashes, but this time to the right. The challenge for any leader is, therefore, to be insistent enough to make things happen and approachable enough so that people will confide when necessary.

leadership teeter-totter centered

A better approach to leadership is to balance between the two extremes; to stand in the center of the teeter-totter, being both friendly and demanding, being neither dictating nor meek. It is a tough balancing act.

Walt Disney once explained his job as neither drawing his characters nor writing his stories. Rather, he said his job was “coordinating these talents, and encouraging these talents, and carrying them down a certain line. It’s like pulling together a big orchestra. They’re all individually very talented. I have an organization of people who are really specialists. You can’t match them anywhere in the world for what they can do. But they all need to be pulled together, and that’s my job.”

To balance in the center of the teeter-totter, be the one who pulls them together: inspiring by pointing your employees in a direction, articulating a vision of what success will look like, offering timely course corrections, cheering employee successes, comforting well-intentioned failures, and coaching unacceptable behavior.

A leader who balances in the center of the teeter-totter will earn respect, and admiration, and is likely to be effective, even if they are not everyone’s buddy.

Headshot of Lenn Millbower
Lenn Millbower
The Mouse Man™

Lenn Millbower, the Mouse Man™ and author of Care Like a Mouse, teaches Walt Disney-inspired service, leadership, innovation, training, and success strategies. Everything Disney touched seems magical. It isn’t. It’s a method. Lenn saw that method up close. He spent 25 years at Walt Disney World as an Epcot Operations trainer, Disney-MGM Studios stage manager, Animal Kingdom opening crew, Disney Institute, Disney University, and Walt Disney Entertainment management. Now, he shares methodologies that will help you make your own magic.

Connect with Lenn on LinkedIn, FacebookTwitterYouTube, and at www.likeamouse.com

Recommended Webinar
Mickey, Donald, or Mufasa: What Disney’s Leadership Strategies can Teach your People

Discover the three leadership personalities (Mickey, Donald, and Mufasa) demonstrated by Walt Disney. Learn how and when to use each one.

Mickey, Donald, or Mufasa: What Disney's Leadership Strategies can Teach your People | HRDQ-U Webinar
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