Triple Crown Leadership

Triple Crown Leadership

Paradoxes of Leadership

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Leadership speaker and author, Bob Vanourek, uses this picture of a paradox ahead sign to show paradoxes in leadership.

Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.

Leadership is rife with paradoxes, competing claims, countervailing pressures, and conflicts. There is frequently a “thesis” and an “antithesis” in leadership dilemmas, often requiring a “synthesis.” Here are some leadership paradoxes and other interesting dualities we have learned:

  1. Serving followers and being served by followers
  2. Flexing between the hard (steel) and soft (velvet) edges of leadership
  3. Being optimistic while staying grounded in reality
  4. Having confidence and humility
  5. Being decisive and collaborative
  6. Protecting people and taking necessary “casualties”
  7. Being in charge and unleashing other leaders
  8. Getting results (ends) with integrity (means)
  9. Preserving the best of the past and embracing change
  10. Making some lonely decisions and being connected
  11. Asking and telling
  12. Speaking and listening
  13. Being patient and impatient
  14. Knowing answers and asking questions
  15. Being strong and vulnerable
  16. Protecting power and empowering others
  17. Controlling and letting go of control
  18. Being competent yet always committed to continual learning
  19. Raising expectations and lowering expectations when necessary[1]
  20. Leading and following
  21. Using reason and emotion
  22. Being reflective and quick to act
  23. Using masculine and feminine approaches

Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Follow us on Twitter: @TripleCrownLead, @GVanourek.

[1] Thanks to Harvard’s Ron Heifitz for this insight. Sometimes leaders need to lower the expectations of followers to a more realistic and achievable level.


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