Authentic Leadership Is Created Out 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…"
So an example of this in the context of leadership is that business leaders need to clear sighted, independent minded, tough minded and yet flexible and in possession of considerable self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
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 Capacity To Move Across The Spectrums As Required
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.
What Happens When There Is No Leadership Paradox...
In many large organisations there is no leadership paradox. The predominant leadership style is transactional, and uses the conventional reward and punishment system to ensure compliance.
This top-down management style allows little, if any, consideration to the need and business benefit of winning hearts and minds.
The unfortunate reality is that too many directors and senior managers sacrifice the needs and feelings of their employees in the interests of keeping their shareholders happy.
The DNA of the leaders and senior management of most organisations (especially large ones) is hard-coded to resist any relaxation of the centralised command and control - 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, and is reflected in the rate of failure of so many change initiatives to realise the intended benefits.
How Authentic Leadership Is Created Out Of Paradox
The biggest cause of tension for an organisational leader is the perceived conflict between the organisational needs and the leader's desire to lead and motivate the people and to address the human side of change.
The most effective leadership is the result of a personal resolution of the tensions between personal goals and those of the organisation.
The leader finds a conscious and creative solution to the leadership paradox by seeing and exploiting the win-win. When this happens, neither the needs of the organisation nor those of the individual are sacrificed and in fact the one serves the other.
For a clear exposition of this theme please see: The Challenge of Authentic Leadership
Return from "Leadership Paradox" to: "Leadership Versus Management"