As a leader, you can use your position to be both Authoritative and Approachable. You can have a Strong Back and a Soft Front.
Authoritative means using your knowledge, skills and positional power for the greater good. You declare goals, set high standards, drive plans, and supervise execution. You direct and influence through all the organizational and moral authority you can muster.
When you use authority well, you are clear, focused, and decisive. You expect cooperation and commitment, so you get it.
Approachable means welcoming all contributions with an open mind and a warm heart. You tune into others, listen for their deepest concerns, and invite them to challenge you. You take delight in the exploration that follows.
When you are approachable, you create safety by being open and resilient. People feel safe to share their ideas with you, so you get the “inside story” that might otherwise be withheld. Better information can lead to better decisions.
The idea of Strong Back, Soft Front, borrowed from a Buddhist teaching, says that we don’t have to choose between being Approachable or Authoritative. They are like Yin and Yang, complementing and completing each other. On a good day, you will lead with one, then the other will follow easily.
(First, Authoritative) You announce a new direction, goals and strategies….
(Then, Approachable) ….then ask people to help you think through the pitfalls and upgrades.
(First, Approachable) You walk around and ask people what they are working on and what they are thinking about…
(Then, Authoritative) …then draw conclusions and set goals or initiatives to support their work
By combining moments of Authority with Approachability, you use your power to the very best advantage.