Great Leaders Don’t Neglect Their B Side

January 29, 2019

Great Leaders Don’t Neglect Their B Side

Remember the days of vinyl records? You bought a 45 for the hit single, but there was another single on the flip side—two songs for the price of one. Today, this classic notion isn’t as rare as you might think. Leadership styles, like records, have A and B sides too. 

Your A side features those strengths that help you positively stand out as a leader in your organization. Maybe you’re great at coming up with innovative ideas and sparking creativity in others. Or you provide a solid foundation that makes your team feel secure in times of change. Perhaps you push your team to excel and rise to a challenge. Or you build trust through collaboration.

Your B side characteristics are the flip side of your strengths, and they’re as integral to who you are as a leader. If you’re the innovative type, you may not put enough value on the work of execution. Or if you’re the stable type, you and your team may be too cautious or unable to meet the demands of a fast-paced environment. Whether you want to admit to having such traits or not, they’re likely affecting your performance as well as the performance of the teams you work with. 

What should you do about this less desirable B side? Instead of trying to ignore or hide it, bring it out into the open and get your team on board to help you manage it. To do so, learn together about your working style and theirs. Explore how the positives and negatives of each person’s style can affect the work you do together. In short, acknowledge your B side traits and the ways in which they may be influencing your team, and then ask for help in lessening their impact.

I’ll share a personal example to illustrate. I’m a thoughtful, conscientious, and detail-oriented person. I consider decisions carefully, prepare for things thoroughly, and work hard to make sure Is are dotted and Ts are crossed. The people and teams I work with often benefit from my diligence. That’s my A side.

On the flip side of those strengths is my tendency to resist making decisions when time is of the essence, avoid situations that require spontaneity, and to waste time perfecting things that don’t need to be perfect, when my efforts could be better spent accomplishing something else. 

My B side could be quite problematic, for me and everyone else, but luckily I’ve got a team of people around me that routinely save me from myself (simultaneously saving themselves from the worst of me). I don’t try to keep my weaknesses a secret. What would be the point? They’re on display for all to see. And my admitting to those B side traits enables others to cajole me without apology into getting moving when I’m dragging my feet. As result, I have opportunities to stretch and grow, and I am a stronger performer and a better leader. 

Being vulnerable in this way will not only help you build trust with your team, it will encourage others to be vulnerable in return and to ask for help in lessening the impact of their own less desirable characteristics. When I good-naturedly let someone give me a hard time for taking too long with a decision, it’s easier for me to point out later that they’ve made an spelling error in an important announcement.

Maybe prior to your next team meeting you could let people know you’ll be sharing one or two of your own weaknesses that you’d like their help managing and that you’d like them to come prepared with one or two of their own. Then, when you get to the meeting, you go first. As the leader of a team it can be helpful to take it one step further and look for a leadership partner with a different style to regularly help balance out your B side. If you encourage your team to rise to every challenge but sometimes push them too hard, partner with someone who’s more sensitive to people’s limits. If you’re highly collaborative but have a tough time making a decision without every last person’s agreement, choose someone who can help you prioritize when consensus is critical and when it’s not. Your team will continue to benefit from your A side strengths, and likely the less desirable aspects of your leadership style will become less of a hindrance when another leader can help compensate for them. 

You may not be able to escape your B side, but adopting these strategies can help make sure your A side keeps getting the most playtime. 

The Authors: 

Suzanne Vickberg, Ph.D., is The Deloitte Greenhouse™ Experience team’s social-personality psychologist and the business chemistry lead researcher.