Finding Balance

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“Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy.”

–Aristotle, Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics

In the quote above, Aristotle is essentially talking about balance—or, in his words, finding the golden mean. The golden mean is a moral virtue that lies between two extremes (vices). For example, courage is a virtue that lies between cowardice (too little confidence) and rashness (too much confidence). It is important to note that Aristotle is not saying that the golden mean of, say, courage is always located at the same place in between the two extremes. The ideal place to be between cowardice and rashness would differ depending on the situation.

 

For example, let’s say that you’re trying to find the golden mean of modesty, which you know resides somewhere between shamelessness (too little shame) and bashfulness (too much shame.) The optimal behavior and mindset for you will be different depending on whether you’re going to an employee’s birthday party or a ceremony thrown in your honor to receive a lifetime achievement award. Not showing up to receive a lifetime achievement award would be to err on the side of bashfulness. Going to an employee’s birthday party and dominating the conversation talking about your own accomplishments would be to err on the side of shamelessness.

The concept of balance and the golden mean can also be applied to our values, which I wrote about previously here and here. People have a tendency to go to the extremes instead of finding balance, and this is true regarding the values they hold as well. After I’ve taken my clients through a Values Assessment I always make sure to have a discussion about how the absence of certain values or taking values to the extreme can be detrimental to their ability to lead. The table below illustrates this concept:

Too Little

Value

Too Much

Over dependent

Autonomy

Isolation/detached

Profligate

Frugality

Stingy

Permissive

Fairness

Legalistic

Cynical

Positivity

Unrealistic

Unproductive

Diligence

Workaholic

Complacent

Competitive

Destructive

Unadaptable

Creativity

Chaos

 

Giving too much power and priority to any one thing ensures tyranny in various forms—even within our own minds and lives. We need balance. All around us we can see systems in nature and civilization that function well and are sustainable because they are in balance, which makes a strong case for why leaders should be balanced in their thinking and behavior.


 

Image courtesy of Kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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