Keep up with the partners

Gustin Partners | February 03, 2014 |

Balance as an Executive & Institutional Differentiator

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

Pliny, the Younger [61 AD -~112 AD] was thought to be a Roman of great “balance” in that at his banquets he would serve three categories of wine for the various categories of guests in attendance.  In doing so he was “balancing” social status with consumption behavior. The Emperor at the time, Trajan evaluated his advisors on the basis of whether they were “in tune with our times” [i.e., in balance with the prevailing zeitgeist].  Trajan wanted to make sure that political behavior and attitude [e.g. policy, legislation and oratory] matched [were in balance with] the realities and needs of the situation. In his provocative 1959 “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” lecture, C.P. Snow, a British scientist and novelist claimed that the world was out of balance.

I believe that the intellectual life of the whole of Western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups. At one pole we have literary intellectuals, at the other – scientists.  Between the two: a gulf of mutual incomprehension - sometimes, particularly among the young - hostility and dislike. But most of all - lack of understanding.

Arthur Herman, in his very readable The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization would have us believe that Snow was late to the party in his articulation of the importance of balancing the needs, contributions and values of poets and scientists.

“Balance” has throughout history been viewed as a good thing. Confucius taught his students “The Doctrine of the Mean.” Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism extolled the importance of balance between yin and yang. Buddha had his “Middle Way” and Aristotle proposed the “Golden Mean.” Polybus [c. 400 BC], son-in-law and pupil of Hippocrates popularized the notion that human health was a function of balancing four humours. Get these humours in balance and good health results; out of balance – disease. Renaissance thinkers extrapolated the health impacts of balance to personality traits and behaviors. Thus, depending on the balance of the four humours a person would fall into one of four temperament categories: Choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. 

In the modern era, I believe that balance can be and actually is a differentiator – both for individual executives and for organizations. However, for all its goodness, balance, the essence of leadership, is for the most part unmeasured.

Balance: Noun & Verb
A leader has to be “balanced”. Socrates teaches that a man "must know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible." Leadership involves achieving personal balance and enabling others to achieve personal balance. This is balance as a noun. Leaders also have to balance the various forces swirling around them. This is balance as a verb.  The act of balancing revolves around balance points.

Balance Point: Balancing Individual & Collective Needs
Leaders are able to answer two critical questions:

1] Who am I?
2] Who are we?

Inside these two questions is the balancing of what the team wants to do, what you want the team to do and what the team actually does. Also balancing how you, individually and organizationally define perform and how your customer defines performance.

Balance Point: Balancing Production & Experimentation
In the IT world a critical balance measure is the ratio of investment/effort that goes into “keeping the lights on” [KTLO] and innovating/experimenting [i.e., building the next generation business]. Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan truly considers herself a political scientist. She used the state of Michigan as “her lab” testing hypotheses regarding best path to the sought for outcome “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

What balance points are most important to you and your organization?


One Boston Place
Boston, MA 02108

Phone: (617) 419-7144


42 Berkeley Square
London W1J 5AW, UK

Phone: 44(0)20.7318.0860
Fax:     44(0)20.7318.0862