The Paradox Of Paradox
Before we explore briefly the question of the leadership paradox it is worth considering what we mean by the word "paradox".
Dictionary definitions suggest the following:
" A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true…exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects…an assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises…"
In the context of leadership this means that business leaders need to clear sighted, independent minded, tough minded and yet in the current climate flexible and in possession of considerable self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
The paradox of paradox
What may seem to be a paradox, is more frequently a reflection of the limitations of language and the words we use to describe things. Often we automatically assume a meaning by inference. So for example, we may describe a leader as having "tough" qualities, but that does not preclude the same leader from displaying "tender" qualities.
The leaders capacity to move across a range of spectrums as the situation requires
Elsewhere on this site we review various theories of leadership – but in summary situational leadership theory suggests that different leadership styles are applicable to different situations, and it is my view based on experience that effective leaders do have the capacity to change their leadership styles to fit the situation they are faced with.
This is capacity to adapt is taken a stage further with Robert Blake and Jane Mouton's "Managerial Grid" theory which suggest that the effective leader "moves appropriately" along the spectrum of task versus relationship orientation.
Again, my direct and observed experience has shown that it is this capacity to move across a range of different spectrums that mark out the truly great leader - the one who transcends the leadership paradox - and in the current climate all organisational leaders need to be great leaders.
The reality in a change management setting - what so often happens when there is no leadership paradox...
In most large organisations there is no leadership paradox (at least here in the UK. The predominant leadership style is transactional - that is it employs conventional reward and punishment to gain compliance, and managing change in the workplace amounts to change being imposed from the top-down - there is little if any consideration given to the need and business benefit of winning hearts and minds.
When attempting to implement and manage change, too many directors and senior managers sacrifice the needs and feelings of their employees in the interests of keeping their shareholders happy.
The first and biggest step to dealing with resistance to change is one that can only be taken by the CEO and senior management of the organisation, and that is to relinquish (or at least relax) "command and control". Not totally of course, as there is always a need for firm direction and senior management edicts, but sufficiently to empower the change leaders to identify and work in collaboration with the informal networks.
In my direct and observed experience, this seldom happens. The DNA of the leaders and senior management of most organisations (especially large ones) is hard-coded to resist this - thus resistance to change starts at the top. In the UK at least, this resistance to change in management style reflects the myopia that results from a general business culture fixated on short-term results.
All too often, the only conditions that encourage directors to relax command and control are either the appointment of a new CEO and/or senior management team, or the threat of a fairly major exposure i.e. an issue that is severe enough to create a personal accountability and potentially one that could be politically exploited to the personal detriment of the individual executive.
You may feel this is a cynical view but it is (sadly) reflected in the failure statistics.
Return from "Leadership Paradox" to: "Leadership Versus Management"