The Leadership Pendulum

The-Leadership-Pendulum-Sandro-da-SilvaDilemmas are part of a leader’s routine. Should you follow your own gut feeling or should you listen to what others say? Should you offer the market what you want to sell or should you offer what the market says it wants? Should you tell your team members what to do or should you allow them to make their own decisions?

As you can see, the questions above are either-or questions, and choosing one option automatically excludes the other. If you approach your leadership challenges this way (many of us do),  you are always confronted with the risk of choosing one option at the expense of the other. That evokes fear in you, and sometimes so much fear that it paralyzes you and disturbs you with anxiety and stress.

My experience as an executive coach has shown me that there is a way-out. Leaders profit when they realize that the two options they see are only extremes of a continuum. They feel empowered when they discover that there are many more options, many more shades of grey (50 I have heard), between the black and white extremes the normally see.

That’s when I came up with the idea of The Leadership Pendulum. The Leadership Pendulum is a tool that helps leaders become  aware of what other possibilities there are between the two extremes they at the moment see. Moving from one extreme to the other,  leaders are invited to translate what the different pendulum positions mean to their current challenge. After translating what those different positions mean, they decide which best to use or implement.

Leaders profit when they realize that the two options they see are only extremes of a continuum. “~ Sandro da Silva Tweet this!

It’s no rocket science. Try it yourself:

  1. Take a blank piece of paper and draw a pendulum on it.
  2. Think about a challenge you are facing at this moment, which you experience as an either-or situation, a dilemma.
  3. Now write down either option at one extreme of the pendulum’s trajectory.
  4. Start now moving the pendulum away from one extreme towards the other extreme. Stop at different places in the pendulum’s trajectory and translate into words what that position means to your challenge. Carry on until you have reached the other extreme.
  5. Reflect on your options, make a choice and act.

The Leadership Pendulum has proven to be very useful in a variety of situations. I invite you to try it a few times and share your experience here. My clients usually say that it frees them from the conflict and the stress of dilemma, and allows to reconcile two options that seemed mutually exclusive. That makes them feel comfortable and at ease, and I hope it does the same to you.

About Sandro da Silva

Sandro da Silva is a Dutch-Brazilian leadership and performance coach with a proven track record of helping clients achieve desired results. He works with executives, managers and entrepreneurs around the globe who want to unleash their potential, accelerate their growth, maximize their performance and excel at what they do. He is a highly committed coach who translates developmental needs into growth opportunities with a client's both personal and organisational goals in mind. He's an expert in enhancing awareness; developing focus and discipline; and promoting action. He's dedicated to building and maintaining an alliance built on excellence, high-level service, integrity, authenticity, trustworthiness and uncompromising ethics.

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  1. Great article – I use a very similar thing which I call the Tell and Ask Continuum for helping leaders decide whether they should adopt more of a management style telling communication style in a given situation or more of a coaching style asking communication style.

  2. ali shan says:

    I must admit your genius. Idea of pendulum on the paper is no doubt helpful but I would rather not use this because of the fact that true principle centred leader with an inside-out approach would kill the monster of dilemma while it is small. A true inside-out approach, broad vision and high values based mision will cut the chances of confusion or dilemma of choosing between one or another to almost zero. We must while looking for solutions take special care in proposing or postulating that it should strongly based on the character ethics rather than personality ethics.

  3. Simple concept and tool Sandro! Maybe not as erotic as Fifty Shades of Grey, but no less powerful. Tanaka you for sharing!

  4. Hi Sandro, very powerful exercise you outline here! I will definitely put it into action more especially during those dilemma moments when others can’t appreciate the bigger picture. What actions will I take between the pendulum extremes that are going to help them buy into the vision? I think putting down the different parts of the trajectory into words will really be helpful.

  5. Sandro – What a simple and powerful exercise! Thanks for sharing! You’re right, so often we see the world in extremes this is a wonderful way to see all of the options available to us in between.

  6. Hi Sandro. I really like your leadership pendulum concept. What a great way to get others to see all parts of an issue. I look forward to trying it out. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Sandro, Thanks for the nice simple exercise to keep the thought process going until a decision is made. It is often times the third option that is actually the best. Your exercise will help us discover the third options.

  8. Great post, Sandro. Beautiful concept, too. In the application of the pendulum, I understand that one is focusing on the options available given a set of circumstances. Does, or would the pendulum model extend to predicted outcomes and factor in variables? Leaders should have an innate sense for the “unknown”, however when challenges are insurmountable or say the instance is a completely new field of play, paralyses could set in. So, to come back to the question, does the the pendulum model include the focus of the expected or intended outcome or just the freedom of more than 2 extreme cases that leaders can explore?

  9. Great concept and tool Sandro. I often see examples of the ‘pendulum theory’. For example, someone is told they talk too much in a particular meeting. So the next meeting they say nothing! Neither is very helpful, but there must be a point where their previous contributions have been useful, but they are starting to over-talk. That’s when they need to set up a feedback mechanism to get a signal to calm it down.

    A further thought – most people do what comes naturally, often their strengths. If they try too hard to focus on harnessing these, they may not be focusing on what’s really going on. Getting other people involved with their pendulum is a great way of enabling others to help with development.

    Warm wishes



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