Managing paradox is an essential element of leadership – being able to recognise it and manage one’s own approach to it. On a personal level I often experience paradox while traveling – I have a strong love-hate relationship with both the US and India. I’m so acutely aware of my emotional responses at the time that I can’t ignore it. But at work, the head-space takes over, and it’s more difficult to recognise and deal with.
Typical Leadership Paradoxes
A lot of leadership training focuses on recognising the difference between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’. I think the whole dynamic can be summed up in the word ‘paradox’. Here are some examples of paradox that were highlighted at Lego (Paul Evans, 2000):
- To be able to build a close relationship with one’s staff, and to keep a suitable distance
- To be able to lead, and to hold oneself in the background
- To trust one’s staff, and to keep an eye on what’s happening
- To be tolerant, and to know how you want things to function
- To keep the goals of one’s department in mind, and at the same time be loyal to the organisation
- To do a good job of planning your own time, and to be flexible with your schedule
- To freely express your view, and to be diplomatic
- To be a visionary, and to keep one’s feet on the ground
- To try to win consensus, and to be able to cut through
- To be dynamic, and to be reflective
- To be sure of yourself, and to be humble
Recognising and learning to manage paradox is a core leadership skill, one that’s developed through self-awareness, reflection, emotional intelligence and honesty about natural ‘comfort zones’. It’s about letting go of attachment and preference, and being comfortable with the ‘and… and’ rather than the ‘either… or’. It’s an art, not a science.