Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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Balance is best

Q: Adrian Fenty was hugely successful when he ran for mayor of Washington, D.C., four years ago, winning every precinct in the city. But now, voters say he's arrogant and doesn't listen, and he's lagging in several polls in advance of September's primary. Now Fenty is admitting his failings, and apologizing to voters. Can tigers change their stripes? And would you want him or her to, if it means watering down the original, well-received agenda?

Adrian Fenty was Washington D.C.'s darling four years ago -- so confident and self-possessed. Today he is politically taking it on the chin for being arrogant.

Barack Obama was lauded for his calm, cool demeanor in the face of economic calamity in the fall of 2008, but today there is a steady drumbeat criticizing his lack of passion and anger in the face of the middle class's struggles.

George W. Bush stood atop the World Trade Center's rubble in 2001 and enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating for his stalwart and determined call for aggressive action, yet this same determined drive in 2006 and 2008 was deemed stubborn and rigid and led to the Republicans' losing the White House and both houses of Congress.

All three examples illustrate well the concept that our weaknesses are merely strengths overdone, misapplied or misunderstood.

Fenty has not changed -- nor has Obama and nor did Bush. Fenty's confidence when overdone or misinterpreted by a stressed (and fickle) electorate started to look like arrogance.

I was recently coaching someone who was known and appreciated for her objectivity and problem-solving skills, but her staff was complaining about how insensitive she often was. My client's issue was not that she needed to stop being mean -- that would always be a charge (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) lurking about her, ready to be hung around her neck.

Her challenge was to balance the use of her objectivity, for the price of this objectivity and problem solving skill set is detachment and insensitivity. It is a set to be balanced and managed, not overcome. Similarly, Fenty's price for self-confidence (which everyone wants in a leader) is his perceived arrogance.

People don't become different people, but their behaviors can expand and moderate --people can grow and hopefully improve. That improvement usually comes in the form of being able to moderate and use more skillfully the gifts and behavioral tendencies we each have.

You can learn that being reflective will lead you to be or be seen as withdrawn. Focusing on specifics and details leads to being and seeming nitpicking, and curiosity, while a benefit, will also look ungrounded and indecisive. Growth and maturity does not mean stopping unwanted behavior and only engaging in good stuff.

Maturity allows us to engage in our behaviors and harness their benefits, recognize when these gifts have been overdone or misunderstood and dial back accordingly, accepting the price of our overstepping. We tend not to stop, however, the behavior and the root of the criticism.

Good luck to Mayor Fenty as he walks this public tightrope. We expect and demand self-confidence but reject arrogance -- and that is a fine balance to strike.

By Hile Rutledge  |  August 30, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and controversy Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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