Lots of people try to talk about “balance,” whether in work or life, and they usually end up sounding hokey. Susanne Madsen does not make that mistake. She applies the concept of Yin and Yang to achieving project excellence, and she does so with practical advice–no feng shui required.
Defining Yin and Yang Management
In a clever twist of the traditional Chinese philosophy, Madsen uses the Yin/Yang concepts to highlight two complementary approaches to managing project teams. The “Yin” approach emphasizes support, stability, and respect. It is a more nurturing management style that seeks to draw out individual strengths and motivations, to unify the team and to galvanize morale. The “Yang” approach to project management stresses accountability, fact finding, overcoming challenges, and setting high standards while demanding solid results. Rather than leaning too heavily on either approach, she recommends blending them equally.
- Yin Activities: listening, supporting, coaching, providing a safe and stable work environment, fostering confidence, empathizing
- Yang Activities: asking tough questions, holding team members accountable, demanding excellence / results, being rational
Applying Yin/Yang to Leadership
Madsen also offers a useful chart for the benefit of would-be project leaders. By arranging Yin and Yang on the vertical and horizontal axis of a Cartesian plain, Madsen creates four categories that relate to PM performance. The leader who is too strong in the Yin category fosters complacency in their project environment. Being too strong on the Yang side makes life stressful for team members and ultimately undermines productivity. Without either element, the PM is detached (i.e. – not doing their job), but with both elements combined they are highly engaged with a team that feels both supported and challenged:
Teams need the dynamic tension of both yin and yang and leaders need to reconcile the two. Leadership is not about “either/or” but about “and”. We must be enabling and forceful; forgiving and demanding; flexible and tough; supportive and challenging.
Being aware of how you use either side of the Yin/Yang dichotomy may help you to balance your management style, and to ultimately create a more balanced team.