When I do masterclasses on behaviour styles in the workplace, two things happen:

1. People get huge insights into themselves and colleagues and why they get along with some, and less with others


2. Almost all believe their style is the best, and they just need to put up with the others.

This makes perfect sense. Behaviour preferences are grounded in practised action. Practice makes familiar, and thus preferred. But underneath all that, it’s values that guide our choices.

Work styles are essentially expressions of values. Values are the things we hold as valuable (hence ‘values’). 

To ask us to change behaviour styles is like asking us to change values. It feels unnatural at best, and just plain feels wrong otherwise.

In one masterclass, a gentleman said, “I understand that sometimes I need to pick up the pace and be more social to be a team player. But I am NOT dropping my standards.”

One leader asked, “Can we perhaps have the best of both worlds? Can we have the best behaviour of the results-driven folk (who are not great team players but generate better bottom line outcomes) and then add the best of the collaborative people, who generate great team culture?

Yes and no.

Yes because the best leaders can flex their approach to meet the people where they are and what the situation demands. 

No because you can’t hive off the best parts and leave the bad parts behind. Any strength has a shadow. Just like there is no light without darkness, there is no strength without its weakness.

It’s a polarity to manage, not a problem to solve.

A polarity is a dynamic between what looks like opposing tensions that are actually complimentary. We are constantly swinging between polarities: 

  • Work and home
  • Exercise and rest
  • Task and team.

The trick is in getting the balance right. It’s not a 50/50 deal either. We don’t exercise 50% of the time and rest 50% of the time. We sway between the two. Problems occur when the polarity is not managed well, too much of one without enough of the other. Each polarity has symptoms of excess and lack – that’s what we need to monitor.

What does this mean in practical terms?

If you have a team that is very results focused, you’ll need to be mindful of managing team morale and burnout. If you have a team that is very social and team-oriented, you’ll need to monitor output and make sure they are getting the work done as well as having fun.

Ultimately as leaders we need to highlight that all behaviour styles are based on values, and therefore none are wrong or better than others. We all shine bright, and we all cast shadows.

Personally I find this a bit of a relief! I don’t need to ‘fix’ anything or get rid of anything. It’s about being more mindful of the ebb and flow.

What polarities are you managing at work and home? Are you aware of the signals when they are out of balance?



  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.