Intelligent leaders understand effective leadership requires them to be strict and easy-going at the same time. Effective leaders are empathic and understanding, but not weak. They set clear goals and expectations and hold their employees accountable. Tough leaders don’t play the blame game and praise those who deserve it.

“Leadership grows like tall trees. It needs both toughness and flexibility.” – Amit Ray.

The art of leadership coaching never fails to point out that leadership is about more than rallying a group of people to achieve specific objectives. True leadership inspires people to become better, more effective, and more successful. Good leaders demonstrate support and empathy, helping the careers of their followers.


A leader supports, inspires, and earns respect.

Intelligent Leadership Requires Toughness

Heavy-handed leadership drawing its essence from authority and toughness can rally people to achieve limited goals, though it is a losing long-term proposition for leaders, employees, and organizations. Still, an effective leadership style requires some degree of toughness. Aspiring leaders should never confuse this brand of toughness with unbridled autocracy.

Effective leadership toughness doesn’t aim to intimidate or sow fear. It predicates its existence upon well-earned respect and trust. It defines itself through transparency, predictability, and fairness.

The Consequences of Leadership Softness

Intelligent leaders cannot afford to go soft. Business coaching professionals understand the risks and drawbacks of lacking toughness and advise against it. Soft leaders give up authority. Although they perform well in some regards, their lack of toughness erodes their abilities to lead over time.

  • Soft leaders find it impossible to earn the respect and trust of their peers and employees.
  • Nice leaders and managers end up having to “mop up” after their reports who don’t do proper work.
  • Soft leaders find themselves avoiding conflict and dealing with difficult problems.
  • Nice leaders may not hold their reports accountable, leading to underperformance.
  • Leaders perceived as weak become mere extras in the designs of their more assertive peers.
  • Soft leaders can’t stand up for their teams.

The Kind of Toughness Intelligent Leadership Requires

Leaders must make their expectations clear to workforces and hold employees accountable. In my executive coaching books, I have insisted on the importance of accountability coupled with transparency.

When employees know what they have to do, how they have to do it, and when they have to have things ready, it is up to them to perform according to expectations.

Leaders who are strict are not authoritarians. They are tough yet fair.

Strict and intelligent leaders know what their employees need to perform and see their leaders as sources of motivation rather than intimidation.

  • Purpose. Everyone needs a purpose to muster motivation. Intelligent leaders know how to provide purpose to their employees.
  • Praise. Meaningful praise is a precious commodity in human relationships. Recognizing good work is a powerful driver of motivation.
  • Respect. Intelligent leaders demand respect from employees and treat them with the same respect. Tough leaders can show respect by being predictable about the goals they set and communicating respectfully and thoroughly.
  • The willingness to get to know team members. Intelligent leaders understand their employees are individuals with differing aspirations, motivations, and capabilities. 

When Does Leadership Call for Toughness? 

Intelligent leaders exist in a permanent state of balance between inspiring reports and demanding their best work. Sometimes, situations arise that require leadership toughness to be resolved.

leader strength

A leader must show strength. 

  • Tough leaders handle setbacks better. Times of crisis call for tough leadership. Strict leaders can compensate for setbacks by realigning organizational objectives. They absorb setbacks better, learn their lessons, and move on.
  • Strict leaders find it easier to say “no.” To say “no” is difficult for a leader and impossible for a soft leader, yet that is what leaders sometimes need to do to facilitate solutions to problems. Strict leaders tackle difficult decisions zealously and do not let conflicts simmer.
  • Tough leaders are quick to provide constructive feedback. A strict leader is more likely to communicate clear expectations and offer relevant feedback to employees than a soft one. Tough leaders are less likely to play the blame game.

Intelligent leadership requires leaders to be kind, strong, bold, empathic, and humble. Being a good leader means striking and maintaining a delicate balance between strictness and flexibility.


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