The Art Of Wrestling In Leadership

Dr Richard Shrapnel PhD
8 min readOct 10, 2022
Photography by Tao Lee on Unsplash.com

In leadership, there are times when you struggle with what decision to make. You can wrestle with the options and possible implications for days, not knowing the right decision. And often make a decision that you are less than comfortable with. But this wrestling is an art, and you can, through practice and discipline, strengthen your ability to make what you know are the right decisions.

Active Knowledge Question:

What advice would you give to someone unsure of what to do?

Wrestling

The physical sport of wrestling traces its origins back to one of the oldest forms of combat, practised across many cultures. Wrestling with the right decision can also trace its roots to the earliest times.

As a leader, being unsure of what decision to make is both time-consuming and draining of your willpower. Willpower being that limited resource you use to muster and focus your best thinking on what is before you. And, of course, when something remains undecided, it can sit in the back of your mind, drain your strength, and distract you without you even recognising it.

The decisions you tend to wrestle with in leadership are not ones where data or numbers can give you a clear answer and basis on which to make a decision. Nor are they ones where there are laws or regulations that set out what is required.

The decisions that you typically wrestle with involve people, questions of what is right and the impact on their lives and the community. If you like, call them moral questions or ones involving how you treat with others. They can hit you right in the heart and challenge your personal beliefs and values and how you view yourself as a person.

Today many leaders are lobbied to make decisions that reflect other persons’ views or interests and use your leadership position to make a statement or pursue an agenda. Worthy leaders should never permit themselves to be leveraged in a way not consistent with their responsibilities or personal values.

Some leaders attempt to build a fence between their business decisions and those they might make personally. May I suggest that there is no such fence. Any decision you make is your responsibility, and you can’t shelter yourself by saying aloud, ‘well, it’s business,’ and believing that somehow absolves you from responsibility. I think any decisions you make impact you as an individual, no matter what hat you wore when you made it.

Intersecting Circles

Suppose you have created a solid foundation upon which to stand, consider and reflect on challenging decisions. In that case, you will find consistency in your decisions and speed and ease in making them. And a peace within yourself that you have made the right decision for the right reasons and succinctness in being able to explain why you made the call you did.

Think of three intersecting circles, and you want to be able to land your decision in the centre of that intersection. The three circles in order of importance are:

  1. Personal values and beliefs.
  2. Purpose and motive in your business.
  3. Culture, incorporating values, of your business.

The question you are asking yourself is what decision is the right one based upon the criteria in each of the circles. And I would recommend that if a decision does not get a tick in Circle One, being personal values and beliefs, then don’t make it.

Circle One — Personal Values and Beliefs

I believe your leadership must be anchored so that you have a reference point for everything you do. This will be the prime basis for any decisions you make and certainly any that you find yourself wrestling with.

This anchor represents your individual values and beliefs. And yes, I do not believe you should accept or remain in a position of leadership where actions or decisions clash with your values and beliefs.

There are two aspects in this circle — who you are as a person and how you seek to treat with others:

- Who You Are As A Person

What are the values, virtues, and principles — whichever language resounds with you best — that you firmly hold yourself accountable to and upon which all your actions are measured?

These should be personal to you, held in your heart, and not grabbed from someone else or place.

The virtues I strive to anchor myself in are:

  • Courage: the willingness to take risks and stretch myself, knowing I will sometimes fail.
  • Determination: the willingness to endure, not to give up and to have faith.
  • Humility: the willingness to listen attentively and openly to others, to accept their views and consider their thoughts, knowing that I am not always right.
  • Love: genuine care and concern for others no matter who they may be.

These are not easy, and you will not always get them right, but you will know the standard you have set for yourself. The ‘who’ you strive to be.

Is the decision I am about to make consistent with the virtues and values I aspire to live?

- How You Seek To Treat With Others

How you seek to treat with others will be an expression of the values you have set for yourself. So, for example, if you are a person who values humility, you will be accepting of and willing to listen to others openly.

What will be the standard you should set for yourself in your dealings with everyone else?

Given that I believe that your prime role as a leader is enablement, that is, bringing forth the potential that resides in others, here are a set of traits that you may consider:

  • A positive attitude to life and work.
  • A gratitude for what has been achieved and given.
  • A consciousness of words and language that always uplifts and encourages.
  • Open, honest conversations resting in active listening.
  • Creativity, imagination and play.

Interacting in this way lifts the potential of those you lead to the forefront.

Is the decision I am about to make consistent with the way I seek to treat with others?

Circle Two — Purpose, Motive And Vision

- Purpose

Businesses exist for a purpose, and that purpose should not be expressed as making money, for if you do, it will only weaken the competitive potential that exists within all the people who work within and with that business.

Purpose is the cornerstone and reference point for the existence of your business. Real competitive strength lies in that purpose, and everything else builds upon it. Purpose reveals opportunities, ensures alignment and a compounding of effort. Purpose is founded in meeting customer needs.

- Motive

In business, motive is everything and is the partner of purpose. If the right motive is not established and defended, the business will never achieve the success and impacts that are within its reach.

When it comes to business and motive, the greatest fallacy of our time is that businesses exist to profit. But making profit the motive for being in business is the least effective motive that a leadership team can set for itself, and their business.

Business exist to compete. They exist to provide the greatest value they can to the community of customers they seek to serve. It is around this value that they compete, and if they do this well, great profit is one of the outcomes.

- Vision

A vision is exciting, enticing and challenging. Visions inspire. They draw everyone participating in a business together and provide a shared common goal to move forward. Visions are the glue that bind and the energy that propel businesses forward. Your vision is your quest.

Is the decision I am about to make aligned with our business’s purpose, supportive of the motive to compete and enabling of our vision?

Circle Three — Culture

Culture is the unique personality of your business. A personality you have built upon:

  • Understanding who your business is and the purpose for which it exists — a clearly defined customer need.
  • How it views the world and its place in it.
  • Setting the right motivation — one of compete.
  • Crafting a view of success to empower everyone in the business.
  • Establishing a healthy attitude to failure.
  • Trust and engagement as a cornerstone of relationships.
  • Creating ‘faith’ through knowing your business.
  • Designing an organisation that correctly moulds culture.

All of which sustain a competitive posture that enables your business to outcompete all others in your chosen markets.

Is the decision I am about to make strengthening of our culture that underpins our competitiveness?

Traits Of A Worthy Leader

A worthy leader is not determined by the technical competencies they possess or their years of experience but by their personal strengths and weaknesses. It starts with humility and gratitude and grows out from this core.

The quality of character separates worthy leaders from others and determines the strength of harmony and competitiveness in a business. In addition to humility and an attitude of gratitude, there are strengths in character that should be sought and weaknesses that should be avoided at all costs.

Worthy leaders will find that crafting the three circles described above for making the right decisions will come naturally and making these decisions will simply become who they are and how they lead.

The strengths to seek in a leader are:

  • Courage to act and take the risks to enable the business to achieve its goals.
  • Discipline to enforce rules within the business in pursuit of purpose, vision, and culture.
  • Sincerity and humanity so that everyone in the business knows that you are authentic, committed to the purpose and vision of the business, and that you will support and reward them for their efforts and understand their needs as people.
  • Wisdom to enable you to quickly recognise circumstances in the business environment and lead necessary change expediently.

Leaders who exhibit the following weaknesses should be avoided:

  • Cowardice will only lead to lost opportunities. A leader who is scared of failure will not be able to lead a business through change.
  • False pride is readily manipulated by a competitor and reflects those who will quickly place their own wellbeing, image, and feelings above that of the business.
  • Impulsiveness can be provoked into rage, negates wisdom, and reflects someone who can be easily exploited and led.
  • Recklessness will only destroy a business and is often found in bravado and overconfidence. Courage must be moderated by wisdom.
  • Weak compassion which leads to a relaxing of the need for strict conduct, compliance with purpose, vision, and culture, and a weakening of competitiveness.

Making the right decisions for the right reasons is the greatest challenge for any leader. This is why leaders often wrestle with what to do.

But if you take the time to reflect on who you are as a leader, the righteous purpose and motive for which your business exists and reinforce that with a compelling vision and the right culture to support competitiveness, then you will have established a framework to which you can apply to any decision.

And know that it was the right decision even though others may disagree. As a leader, you must live in peace with the decisions you make.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel

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