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Embracing the Paradoxes of Leadership
Thanks to the influence of Aristotle, most leaders often think in absolutes. For the Greek philosopher, contradiction in beliefs or actions reflects an error in judgment. Any time we believe a working premise contradicts another one, then one of the premises is false.
For example, if we believe a loyal person has betrayed us, then either they are not loyal, or the act is not one of betrayal. For Aristotle, paradox does not exist. Right and wrong cannot coexist in the same act or moment. Leaders have to choose.
This logical way of thinking serves us well until we confront the reality that so many qualities of good leadership are steeped in contradiction. Unfortunately, leadership is rife with paradox.
Leaders are required to balance the opposite ends of the spectrum. They must be highly energetic, yet calm. Competitive, yet empathetic. Decisive, yet open-minded. Visionary, yet practical. Highly focused, yet flexible. Action-oriented, yet inclusive. Resolute, yet supportive. Big picture, yet detail specific. Confident, yet humble. The list goes on and on.
Great leaders don’t live in the middle of these contrasting qualities. They accept the inherent contradictions they imply and embrace the idea that they must find within themselves the ability to walk between them, striking a balance that doesn’t allow any quality to become too extreme.
The idea is to accept these tensions and to live through them rather than to reject them and settle on a fixed mindset.
The best leaders are a composite of seemingly contradictory qualities. When leaders lack the ability to cope with the existence of opposites, they become less effective. Embracing the contradictions of leadership is how leaders become great.
The everyday paradoxes of leadership may be the most powerful explanation as to why some leaders excel and others flounder. The complexity of leadership becomes more understandable when we accept the idea that creating simplicity is exceedingly hard work.
Now, that’s a paradox worth celebrating.