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How Do You Develop Balanced Leaders

Organizations and teams differ in many ways. Their size, structures, and services are shaped by internal and external forces—finances, location, personalities. But all effective organizations share at least one thing in common—effectively balanced leadership.

How can balanced leadership be characterized? Defining leadership, much less service leadership is an elusive task.


Balance is an essential, though commonly overlooked, ingredient of leadership. Without complementary character and behavioral traits, how else could today’s staff or volunteer leader simultaneously fulfill administrative and service opportunities. To fulfill their client-centered responsibilities, organization and team leaders must be both active and passive. Leadership involves giving as well as taking, serving as well as directing, waiting as well as taking, serving as well as directing, waiting as well as acting. Passive and active traits must be blended to forge a compassionate, committed leader.


Service leadership can be meaningfully portrayed on a continuum of character and behavioral traits ranging from active to passive:

The Active Leader

  • Makes things happen
  • Performs tasks personally
  • Makes decisions unilaterally and individually
  • Introduces informality into through formal programs
  • Talks
  • Orchestrates change
  • Teaches
  • Engenders through words and actions

The Passive Leader

  • Delegates tasks to others
  • Engages in participative, shared decision making
  • Achieves through informal interaction
  • Listens
  • Allows change to happen naturally
  • Learns

Manages through personal presence and empathy

Waits for things to happen rather than trying to make them happen


In reality there is no totally active or totally passive leader, only varying blends of both traits. Leadership effectiveness is enhanced by the interplay of active and passive traits—the leader who can be many things to many people.

The service leader must certainly be capable of “makings things happen” through planning, budgeting, and program implementation. He must also possess the patience to wait for things to happen as the result of prayer or congregational mood.

Likewise, the effective leader balances individual decision making with group deliberation, personal tasks performance with delegation, and formality with informality. The well-balanced leader listens as well as talks, learns as well as teaches, and emotes as well as thinks. Balance and wholeness are the keys.


Problems inevitably erupt when a leader becomes too active or too passive. Lack of balance leads to lack of effectiveness. It is unavoidable.

Overly active leaders (and their organizations) are likely to experience the following interpersonal and organizational problems:

  1. Premature decision making and action
  2. Overwork and over-commitment
  3. Precipitation of confrontations and conflicts
  4. Poor interpersonal communication and feedback
  5. Lack of rapport building with individual employees
  6. Difficulty in getting staff and volunteers to implement decisions and programs
  7. Resistance to change

The overly passive leader, on the other hand, is prone to a different set of problems:

  1. Indecisive, inconsistent decision making
  2. Ineffectiveness in inspiring and motivating people
  3. Wasting time in frequent committee meetings and informal group deliberations
  4. Sloppy coordination and integration of activities and programs
  5. Organizational stagnation and preoccupation with the status quo
  6. Heavy dependence on over-worked workers for work progress
  7. Tendency for organizational problems to escalate out of control


A careful examination of the demands of balanced service leadership can prove frustrating. While agreeing on the need for such leadership, it is easy for one individual to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of being all things to all people.

Indeed, the leader who tries to be all things in all situations will probably achieve little. The answer to leadership effectiveness is to expand the leadership base beyond one person. The search for balanced leadership really involves creating a leadership team or body within which active and passive orientations complement each other.

Perhaps the most important, but least recognized, responsibility of an effective leader is that of developing the leadership potential of people at the grass roots (client-intensive) level. By recognizing his or her own areas or strengths and weakness, the leader seeks to broaden and deepen the leadership base of the organization by gathering around him them with contrasting and complementary traits. Such differing traits provide a check-and-balance for meeting the complex demands of today’s non-profit organizations.

Phil Van Auken

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