Leadership For Our Times
by Leslie Bendaly

What an exciting time to be a leader! There are more opportunities and more stimulating challenges than ever before. Never has there been a greater opportunity to contribute more and to grow more. With the opportunities and stimulating challenges of course must also come potentially stress-inducing challenges.

There is a Russian proverb that says, “When walking on thin ice you’ve got to walk fast.” We are leading today in conditions of permanently thin ice. The world is unpredictable. And since the pace of change will continue to speed up in the 21st century, we know the ice is not going to get thicker. Leading people and organizations across this thin ice requires a leadership style that demonstrates a superb balance between attention to task and attention to process. The result is a responsiveness that allows us to recreate on the run, while continuing to meet our standards of quality.

Some leaders are by nature more task oriented.

Task orientation would include:

  • Doing
  • Working independently
  • Making logic basic decisions
  • Acting
  • Moving things along
  • Focusing on details or the immediate task at hand
  • Directing
  • Bringing things to closure (making decisions)
  • Controlling
  • Telling
  • Focusing on the job at hand

Process orientation would include:

  • Thinking
  • Participating/teamwork
  • Using creativity and intuition
  • Talking
  • Exploring ideas more deeply
  • Focusing on the big picture
  • Facilitating
  • Opening up/looking for other ideas (generating alternatives)
  • Letting go and empowering
  • Asking
  • Focusing on the people, values and vision

A quick look at the two sets of behaviors reveals the obvious - both are important. In a slower-paced world however, we got away with ignoring, or at least putting less emphasis on the process oriented behaviors. As we have recognized the need for greater responsiveness, some have begun to put too much focus on the process behaviors. The leadership style that will allow leaders and their teams to thrive, is one that demonstrates a fine balance between the two. Too much task orientation can result in efficiency without effectiveness: e.g. quick decisions that may not be the best and/or may not have full support. Too much process orientation can lead to plenty of participation and wonderful ideas that accomplish little.

Are you a “leader of our times”? If so, you have a natural task/process balance. You instinctively know when to introduce task behaviors and when to use process behaviors. Most people do not instinctively move back and forth with ease between each-but all of us can learn how. If you feel at times that you are struggling, it is a sign that something is out of balance. Leadership, or life in general for that matter, are not meant to be a struggle. In the new millennium, we will have to continue to work very hard, but if we can find our own task/process balance, we will not have to struggle.

Consider the Task/Process dimensions below and rate consider your personal preference. A preference is how you prefer or are most comfortable working, not necessarily how you always act. Our personal preferences may or may not show themselves strongly in our daily behavior. We may have already learned to manage dimensions that may not be productive. However, our preferences often slip out without our noticing, both those that are beneficial and those that may hinder us in our leadership quest. Preferences are demonstrated most readily when we are under stress.

You will notice that the pairs of dimensions are opposites. If we have a strong preference for one; we will have a mild preference for the other. Our stronger preferences allow us to bring unique abilities to the leadership role. The weaker pole could, if not managed, trip us up. On occasion our strongest preference can be so strong that it too can hinder.

As you consider the dimension pairs, keep in mind that each of us reflects some of the characteristics of each of the two dimensions, but we usually have a preference for one of the pairs. Note: There are more in-depth descriptions of each dimension below.

I prefer working alone.
I prefer working with others.
I examine things objectively.
I believe in applying my values and preferences to decision making.
Inward Looking
I am detail oriented and focus at the immediate issue or task at hand.
Outward Looking
I am big picture oriented. e.g. Focus on theory or outside factors.
I value facts and figures.
I value intuition and creativity.
I prefer bringing things to closure. I have strong opinions.
I prefer exploring options and others’ points of view.

Task/Process Dimension Descriptors


Independent individuals who show a preference for the independent mode:

  • work best independently.
  • can be disadvantaged in group work - they often develop ideas best thinking quietly on their own, and a group discussion can block rather than stimulate their thinking.
  • often do not think of communicating with others as they do not have a strong need to interact with others. Because they do not share information readily, they can be misunderstood and seen as hoarding information and being secretive or aloof.
  • do not necessarily want to retreat in a cabin in the woods, but do look to solitary activities to reenergize.

Interactive individuals who show a preference for the interactive mode:

  • need people around them and reenergize by being active with others. They work best with others.
  • need interaction to stimulate their thought processes. They thrive on meetings, think well out loud and may dominate discussion. They regularly create their own meetings by carrying a coffee into a colleague’s office to bounce ideas off her. It does not occur to them that they might be disturbing someone, because any intrusion in their day is a welcomed relief.
  • need variety.


Detached individuals who have a preference for the detached mode:

  • are able to stand emotionally back from issues and examine them with detachment - they separate facts from emotion and use the facts;they recognize and test assumptions.
  • can miss “people” factors.
  • do not value opinions that are not proven by fact.
  • take pride in being sensible and level headed.
  • are not greatly concerned about others’ opinions of them.

Attached individuals who have a preference for the attached mode:

  • become emotionally involved in issues.
  • are aware of and consider others’ feelings.
  • are more strongly influenced by feelings than logic.
  • are moved by emotional pleas or motivational presentations.
  • create energy and enthusiasm for ideas they support.
  • show emotion.

Inward Looking/Outward Looking

Inward Looking individuals who have a preference for the inward looking mode:

  • focus most intently on their immediate environment, including the job at hand.
  • work well with detail and see detail most easily and clearly - they can get caught up dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and miss the bigger picture.
  • like to have clear goals and objectives.
  • like structure.
  • tend to focus on their particular area of expertise and not develop broad interests or become generalists.

Outward Looking individuals with a preference for the outward looking mode:

  • are tuned in to the big picture.
  • can be frustrated by detail people.
  • speak in broad terms and generalities.
  • would prefer developing a mission statement or strategic plan to developing goals and objectives.
  • enjoy exploring the theory behind an application, and the cause and effect of issues.
  • value being well versed in many topics.


Logical individuals who prefer the logical mode:

  • need the world to make sense - they like to approach things in a logical step-by-step fashion.
  • believe things and issues should be easily resolved with a little common sense. To them, issues are black or white.
  • prefer to work with structured models when problem solving. Wide open brainstorming or “blue skying” have no appeal for them.
  • prefer a structured work environment.

Intuitive individuals with a preference for the intuitive mode:

  • like to think and explore possibilities.
  • are not limited by a need for structure or preconceived ideas.
  • are open to all possibilities.
  • like to try new approaches.
  • like to brainstorm.
  • generate creative ideas.
  • are not comfortable working in a highly structured environment or mode.
  • often examine issues from different, and not apparently logical, perspectives.
  • are more likely to take what appear to be risks as they choose a decision they “feel good” about, but such a decision may not be supported by logic.


Convergent individuals with a preference for the convergent mode:

  • have firm opinions.
  • live comfortably with their decisions, feeling confident that they are right.
  • are quick to make decisions and change their minds reluctantly.
  • become impatient with any discussion they see as wheel spinning.
  • like to work to plan.
  • often play the role of moving things to closure.
  • are likely to supply answers - to tell, rather than to ask questions.

Divergent individuals with a preference for the divergent mode:

  • like to hear as much information as possible.
  • are open to others’ points of view.
  • carefully consider all information and opinions.
  • like a discussion to run its own course and to reach closure when the group is ready.
  • take a facilitative approach to dealing with people, asking rather than telling.
  • enjoy working with the unexpected and dealing with needs as they arise.
  • look for compromise.


We need more than ever to reflect, not just on what we are doing, but how we are approaching our leadership role. However, personal reflection often gets pushed to the bottom of the leader’s priority list, if indeed it ever gets on it. It seems there is never enough time. Reflection, however, does not have to take a great deal of time and its return on investment can be enormous.

The following is a quick reflection exercise. Its purpose is to consider your personal task/process preferences and how those preferences affect your leadership style and its effectiveness.

  1. Identify your strongest and weakest preferences.
  2. Select a challenging aspect of your leadership role: e.g. getting decisions made, getting people to buy in to decisions, leading productive meetings, dealing with difficult clients.
  3. Identify ways in which those preferences may be helping or hindering you in meeting those challenges.

Examples: If you are Outward Looking and many of your team members are Inward Looking you may be presenting ideas and decisions in terms that are too broad. Those receiving the information may require more detail to feel comfortable.

If you have a high Convergent preference you may have very firm opinions on issues and although you may make an effort to listen to people, you may not actually be opening yourself to actually hearing and understanding differing opinions.

Suggestion for Tapping the Best of Yourself

Devote 10 minutes a day to reflecting on how you approached situations in the last 24 hours and how you intend to approach situations in the next 24 hours.

The 21st century will hand each of us opportunities to tap our true potential. If we simply run on automatic pilot, we will miss them. Ten minutes of reflection a day can allow us to embrace them with enthusiasm and truly feel the joy of leadership.

A best selling author, speaker and workshop leader Leslie Bendaly challenges and coaches individuals, teams and organizations to achieve exceptional performance in environments of hyper change and gives them the tools to do so. Her acclaimed learning programs include: Competencies for the 21st Century, The Facilitation Skills Workshop, Getting Your Company (or team) To The Next Level and Creating Teams That Work. Contact Leslie by e-mail: leslie@lbendaly.com and visit http://www.lbendaly.com/ .

Many more articles on Executive Performance, Personal Development, Creative Leadership and High Performance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Leslie Bendaly. All rights reserved.

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