There are infinite ways to lead. As such, it can be difficult to find the right balance on the spectrum of leadership. Should you be more hands-on or hands-off? More vocal or quiet? More structured or spontaneous? More compassionate or tough?

Fortunately, finding your place on the spectrum of leadership is not as daunting as it may feel at times. Using a few simple concepts in something I call Spectrum Mapping, you can discover approaches that work both for you and your people.

Which Spectrum Are You Mapping?

The first step in Spectrum Mapping is identifying the spectrum you’re struggling with. All spectrums involve poles that are the opposite of one another. In addition to some of the spectrums I mentioned at the beginning of the post, other common spectrums include:

  • The Spectrum of Commitment: staying too long or giving up too soon
  • The Spectrum of Disciplining: imposing consequences quickly or waiting things out
  • The Spectrum of Sensitivity: overreacting or underreacting
  • The Spectrum of Formality: being too detached or being too personal
  • The Spectrum of Adventure: taking risks or being cautious

Some spectrums might not be obvious to identify. However, there are usually some keywords and phrases that will tip you off, such as:

  • “I should be more/less …”
  • “I wonder if I’m being too/not enough …”
  • “Am I too …?”
  • “I’m not good at being …”

There are an infinite number of spectrums to explore. Noticing the clues above and taking time to reflect on what you’re wrestling with can bring the spectrum to light. Once you identify it, you can either write or visualize a Spectrum Map that includes the name of the spectrum and each of the poles. For example:

In the diagram, place the name at the top and place the poles at either end. Using the spectrum of social orientation as an example:

Assessing Your Place on the Spectrum

After you’ve identified the spectrum and created the Spectrum Map, the next step is assessing where you are on the Map. Because this tool is intended to help you self-assess and not diagnose, there is no right or wrong, good or bad place on the spectrum. You are where you determine yourself to be. Therefore, the more honest you are with yourself, the more value you’ll gain.

To get a sense of where you’d place yourself, start from the midpoint and move towards either pole. Think of behaviors associated with the pole as a guide. In our “social orientation” spectrum example, “introverted” might mean not wanting to talk to people, preferring to stay at home, and disliking parties while “extroverted” might mean not liking being alone, disliking quiet, and preferring social interactions. Again, it’s completely subjective to your definitions, not anyone else’s.

Once you’ve assessed where you fall on the spectrum, place an “X” on the Spectrum Map. For example:

Finding Your Balance

Now that you’ve identified where you land on the spectrum, it’s time to explore alternate behaviors to bring you into greater balance. This doesn’t necessarily mean being exactly at the midpoint, nor does it mean staying in a static place. The point is to find a place that is appropriate to the situation you’re trying to resolve.

Returning to our example, let’s say you’re wondering if you tend to be excessively introverted, or if your introversion is not serving your team. You sense your team wants more engagement and interaction, even though it’s not your default style. As such, you wonder if perhaps you could be a little more extroverted.

Or, perhaps you simply aren’t sure if being more extroverted would serve you in general. You might see other people who are extroverted have experiences that you’d possibly like to have or contributing to their success.

Either way, you can then start exploring actions or behaviors that can move you towards either the midpoint or the other pole on the Spectrum Map, depending on your goals. In this case of wanting to be more extroverted, you might recognize that sharing more positive affirmations to your team, holding more team meetings, or simply greeting your team each morning could bring you into more balance.

Once you’ve identified the action you’d like to take, it can help to turn it into a goal. This increases the likelihood of you changing your behavior.

The Discomfort of the Opposite Pole

Moving towards the opposite pole may feel unnatural, awkward, or downright scary. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone and trying on a new behavior. This discomfort is normal, and likely a sign that you’re moving in the right direction. The trick is to stay with it, and not give up too soon (this is especially true if you’d place yourself on the “giving up too soon” end of the commitment spectrum :).

The other trick is to take small steps (again, another spectrum to navigate if your tendency is to take big steps or go all or nothing). A good general measure is to go to the edge of your comfort zone, then take a step or two beyond it. If you’re feeling outright terror or want to run away, you’re probably going too far and will set yourself up for failure.

Just like exercising a muscle, the more you practice moving towards the opposite pole, the easier it will become.

Exploring Spectrums

Exploring various spectrums and creating Spectrum Maps can be fun. It’s an easy way to identify new behaviors that you can try on and experiment with.

It’s also a good way to create engagement with your team and peers. Find people to represent the other pole of the spectrum and look to them for ideas and inspiration. Brainstorm ideas for moving towards the other pole. Have your team assess themselves on the same spectrum and share reasons behind their assessment to learn more about each other and how you can support each other. Ask for feedback, and assess how others would place you versus where you’d place yourself. There are infinite ways to use this tool, so try out a few.

To give you some ideas for playing with the tool, here are some questions to consider:


  • What do you judge yourself for, and what spectrum might relate to the judgment?
  • When you place yourself in the middle of a spectrum, what might you try doing to move towards either pole?
  • How does where you’d place yourself align with how people close to you would place you on a given spectrum? How can this information make you more self-aware?
  • What might you gain by stepping outside of your comfort zone?
  • What simple, immediate behaviors could you try doing that would bring you into more balance?