The Leadership Paradox

Accountability Organizational leadership Personal leadership


Key Point: The demands and expectations regarding leadership mirror the incredible pressures and turbulence facing organizations today. Are leaders equipped to thrive in this rapidly changing and increasingly demanding work environment? According to the CEB, a member based advisory company with 10,000 organizations representing 85 percent of both the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100, a recent survey concluded that almost one third would change their leadership teams if given the chance. Wow! In 2003, the same survey stated that 12 percent would want to replace their teams. In parallel, a 2013 survey involving 23,000 senior leaders noted the following increased expectations: 80 percent have been given more responsibility, 76 percent have broader objectives, and 65 percent understand they have to deliver business results faster.

With this incredible speed-based performance pressure, I believe several key paradoxical elements are emerging as powerful considerations in redefining leadership.

1. Be caring and tough.

On an attribute or value-based level, leaders must be capable of being both caring and tough without feeling compromised or conflicted. These paradoxical attributes best exist in parallel based on a foundation of deep respect for people. Leaders today need both (see my previous blog on this).

2. Be individual and networked.

Leaders have to be able to motivate, inspire and optimize individual performance, while being able to connect with a network of people to achieve desired results; many who may not be in his/her direct organizational control. Individual performance is optimized only if it flows through the entire organization, people, and process network, concluding with real value for a stakeholder.

3. Be vertical and horizontal.

Business process effectiveness and transformation will continue to be important, but the ability to influence and drive multi-directional performance will be more important than ever. Leadership will be as much or more about networked flow instead of top down alignment. Yet alignment to a meaningful purpose and strategic intent will continue to inspire and promote commitment.

4. Be diverse and inclusive.

Diversity of experience, background and thought will take on greater importance, and the ability to embrace it will be powerful. At the same time, having an inclusive mind and skill set will be vital. Differences need to be treated as an important resource, and the path to tapping into diversity depends on being more inclusive.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that leadership is individual leverage AND influencing the collective, networked flow of optimizing people, technology and capital towards a sustainably valued state of organization being. Continue to develop leadership assets as an individual with the ability to execute and transform. Find out what additional skills you need to develop in order to be a network leader, collaborator and influencer.
  2. Invest in being both diverse and inclusive. Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is about making the mix work. Be inclusive with deep personal intent.
  3. Care enough to make the tough decisions and make these with care. The ability to make choices about how to deploy people, technology and capital is a privilege, and requires a foundation of respect. Embrace respect as a core leadership value.

Paradox leadership in the Triangle