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The Secret to Becoming a Better Manager

Michele Buck, president of North America at The Hershey CompanyMichele Buck, president of North America at The Hershey Company
Michele Buck, president of North America at The Hershey Company

The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question:What’s the most difficult part of being a leader? is written by Michele Buck, president of North America at The Hershey Company.

Let me start by saying I love being a leader. I work with some of the smartest people in the business and a team that inspires me every day. I wouldn’t be successful in my role as President of Hershey’s North America business without waking up every day energized by what my team and I can accomplish together. So when I think about the biggest challenge of leadership, I believe it’s the “polarity of leadership.”

As a leader, you must be able to successfully balance a number of opposing and seemly contradictory forces if you are going to achieve your objectives. For example, you need to be visionary and future-focused while at the same time delivering exceptional and consistent operating results day in and day out. Another polarity is encouraging and inspiring teams while also providing tough love when necessary. As a leader, you need to always be “on” in the moment while making time for introspection to assess how things are going and to look in the future. You are leading a business with tangible results as well as people who are motivated by vastly different things, need different levels of support, and respond differently to leadership tactics.

I believe in being “learning agile” and having a strong desire for continuous improvement. Some of the best learning throughout my career has been watching leaders I respect interact with their peers, teams and external stakeholders. Here, the polarity comes from your responsibility to develop your teams while also taking the responsibility to broaden your own thinking by connecting with external peers and “bringing the outside in,” whether it’s learning from consumers, your customers, or peers outside of your company. There is even polarity in setting your vision. You need to motivate your teams to aspire to excellence by setting an optimistic tone. At the same time, you need a healthy degree of paranoia and skepticism to ensure you are putting the right plans in place to deliver results.

I actually love the challenge of these polarities. The question really is: how do you master the balance? I think each leader has to decide what works best for them, but over the course of my career, I’ve found techniques and developed my own style to strike the right balance. First, I constantly scrutinize exactly what is the best use of my time and where can I add the most value. This requires a careful assessment of my strengths and those of each of my team to determine where I can be most effective to “flex in.” I have to ask myself, “At this point in time and given the options, where can I best devote my time?” With only so many hours in a day, you have to trust the team you have built and know when to step in and when to step back. This means continuously taking time for introspection to assess where you are in the balance and course correcting as needed.

I also proactively seek honest feedback from “a trusted source.” This can be a direct report, a HR colleague, or a peer to see where I am in the balance. It’s an opportunity to carefully monitor the “cues” that tell you you’ve swung too far one way or the other. In the end, one of the most import polarities is feeling the weight of your responsibilities on your shoulders while also enjoying every moment of the exciting challenges you face.