Three-to-One Leadership
by Clark Aldrich

Practicing leadership comes down to practicing four principles in concert. First, you need power within the group. You need to be heard when you speak. You may also need allies with power. Second, you need to manage the tension of the group. If the tension is too low, there will not be a perceived need to do anything differently. If the tension is too high, the group will be too panicked to act effectively. Third, the group needs to have enough different alternatives, or ideas, to consider in order to select the right one. When you have enough power and ideas, and the tension is right, leaders have to get the group to complete the critical work.

This framework is a razor-sharp diagnostic tool at all levels of an organization. For any employee, consider:

  • Are they respected within their work group? If not, I would suggest that they work on better speaking or writing, perhaps even learn to negotiate.
  • Is the tension too low or too high within their workgroup? If it is too low, visit a competitor. If it is too high, talk to some satisfied customers.
  • Are there enough new ideas being considered? If not, brainstorm, research, and do long-term strategic planning.
  • Is the key work getting done? If not, consider brushing up on project management or time management

For a senior management team, I would ask the same questions in a different form:

  • Are they respected within the company?
  • Is the company as a whole too complacent or too nervous?
  • Is the company actively cultivating and considering radical new ideas?
  • Is the company getting the critical work done in the right volume?

The answers would provide a blueprint as to what this senior team needed to do in order to lead the organization. Variations of the same questions would even apply to a CEO looking at an entire industry.

  • Is his or her company respected within the industry?
  • Is the industry complacent? Is the industry over-nervous?
  • Is the industry looking at different business models? Different revenue streams? Bringing in new players?
  • Is the industry producing the sufficient quantity of output to be sustainable and relevant? This might especially apply to young industries, monopolies, and government organizations.

Leadership has been twisted recently to mean anything good. This will inevitably lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the term. But the core essence of leadership, balancing these four principles, will always be a necessary skill of the people in demand.

Clark Aldrich is involved in several long-term e-learning research projects. In one, Mr. Aldrich is building a high-end immersive leadership simulation that can be found at He also speaks to, consults with, and writes for implementing enterprises, vendors, publications, and venture capitalists. He can be reached at

Many more articles on Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Clark Aldrich. All rights reserved.

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