After thousands of years and countless words written and spoken about leadership, why is it still so hard to get it right?
Perhaps because leadership is rife with paradoxes? A paradox includes two contradictory concepts both of which are true. We recount some of them here.
- Adaptive and persistent.
- Asking and telling.
- Bosses and servants.
- Committed and flexible.
- Confident and humble.
- Courageous enough to lead and follow.
- Demanding and forgiving.
- Warfield generals and sanctuary seekers.
- Fierce and fun.
- Focused on the future and the present.
- Hard and soft.
- Impervious and vulnerable.
- Inspiring and inspired.
- Lonely and connected.
- Masters of change and stewards of history.
- Nimble and solid.
- Open to criticism and resolute against attacks.
- Optimistic and realistic.
- Passionate and temperate.
- Patient and impatient.
- Persuasive and persuadable.
- Respected and respectful.
- Smart in the head and stout in the heart.
- Sprinters and marathoners.
- Strong inside and resilient outside.
- Talkers and listeners.
- Teachers and students.
- Thick-skinned and soft-hearted.
- Trusting and skeptical.
- Visionaries and doers.
- Worldly wise and open like a child.
In each of these paradoxes, we all naturally tend toward one of these two contradictory concepts. The key to mastering leadership paradoxes is to flex between the two contradictory concepts depending on the people and the situation. Sometimes the leader listens deeply, open to be persuaded; other times the leader talks passionately to persuade. Triple crown leaders are comfortable with paradox.
What paradoxes in leadership have you observed? Which are the toughest for you?
We welcome your additions to our paradox list.
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, trainers, and award-winning authors. They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards, and called “the best book on leadership since Good to Great.” Take their Leadership Derailers Assessment or sign up for their newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!