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The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership

Eight Paradoxes

LIFE is full of paradoxes. Sometimes we move forward by backing off, performing while being reflective, being an extrovert and an introvert, leading and following, confident and humble. Paradoxes are not to be solved but managed. It is a continuum to move along. It requires a heightened level of awareness. Leaders bring clarity to these paradoxes.

In The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership by Tim Elmore, he covers eight such paradoxes of uncommon leaders. In such volatile times, embracing these paradoxes is critical for effective leadership.

Leadership is seldom easy, but today it affords us the challenge of collaborating with a more educated, more entitled, more savvy population that has greater expectations of satisfaction and rewards than in past generations. Uncommon leaders stand out because they are able to juggle seemingly contradictory traits to lead such people.

Emore introduces many great concepts and (sometimes very moving) stories to illuminate these paradoxes. He gets into the nitty-gritty of what these paradoxes look like or how they are practiced in everyday situations.

I’ll just give you a flavor of each, so you get the idea of where Elmore is headed with these paradoxes and how you might begin to recognize them in your own leadership.

Paradox #1: Uncommon Leaders Balance Both Confidence and Humility

Leading today requires combining these two attributes—confidence and humility. Reality changes so quickly, leaders cannot become arrogant, but remain in a learning posture. At the same time, team members long for their leaders to inspire them with confidence.

Confidence plus humility furnishes the energy of certainty and the flexibility of teachability to create synergy in partnerships.

Confidence believes you can do the job. Cockiness believes it will be easy.

Paradox #2: Uncommon Leaders Leverage Both Their Vision and Their Blind Spots

Vision gives leaders (and teams) a direction, but blind spots are often the very motivator that enables them to approach an idea in an unconventional way—and believe they can pull it off. Most new ventures require a leader to possess a clear target they want to hit. At the same time, their inability to see all the obstacles or challenges ahead of time helps them to maintain their energy as they try to hit their target. In short, leaders usually have to see something and fail to see something to reach their goal.

When Elmore talks about blind spots, he’s talking about rookie smarts. He’s not talking about the blind spots of character that lead us to the wrong choices. Regarding these kinds of blind spots, he notes, “Our blind spots are often found conspicuously close to ur strengths.”

Paradox #3: Uncommon Leaders Embrace Both Visibility and Invisibility

In the beginning of any mission, most people need a visible leader, demonstrating what to do and clarifying the goal. Over time, however, these people need the leader to step aside to let them realize their potential.

These people lead—and then get out of the way. In short, they embrace the paradox of being both visible and invisible at the right moments.

Paradox #4: Uncommon Leaders Are Both Stubborn and Open-Minded

Leaders will never reach a goal without being strong-willed. Without a stubborn will, obstacles will stop them. At the same time, they’d be naïve to think they have all the answers at the beginning of a venture. They must be open to voices of counsel; to flex and to adapt to changing realities.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said it best, “The most incredibly interesting thing about being a leader is what adjustments you make and how to make them while keeping your core principles alive and well.”

If we’re going to be open-minded leaders, we must possess both emotional security and a strong will. We must be emotionally secure enough to digest contrary ideas and strong-willed enough to mote merely swallow every novel idea just because it’s new.

Paradox #5: Uncommon Leaders Are Both Deeply Personal and Inherently Collective

People need big-picture vision from their leader, someone who grasps the gravity of what’s happened, and the steps required to respond to it. At the same time, people need a leader who empathizes with their personal journey; someone who understands how the struggle feels to individuals, and who articulates the vision with a personal touch.

Elmore adds, “Wise leaders seemed to understand their people and offered three gifts:” context to problems, applications (practical action steps), and belief (hope for a better future).

Paradox #6: Uncommon Leaders Are Both Teachers and Learners

In our day of unceasing change, leaders are forced to be teachers, and organizations are forced to adapt. To do this, however, these leaders must first and foremost be lifelong learners, always adapting and never resting on what they know. Leaders are both receptacles of information and libraries of information.

The prerequisite for remaining a learner while you are a teacher is emotional security. If you’re an insecure leader, you’ll soon begin defending your past ideas; you’ll feel threatened or even displaced if someone has a better solution than yours.

Paradox #7: Uncommon Leaders Model Both High Standards and Gracious Forgiveness

The paradox of this uncommon leader is their propensity to forgive people. It’s not that they lower their standards. It’s simply that they’re able to absolve a team member who acknowledges they failed to meet the standard and chooses to improve. Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It’s choosing to rise above it. Forgiveness does not remove the past, but it does expand the future.

When team members know their leader holds high standards, yet is willing to forgive mistakes, it frees them to push themselves, take appropriate risks, and initiate when they might normally hold back and play it safe.

Paradox #8: Uncommon Leaders Are Both Timely and Timeless

Uncommon leaders in the twenty-first century must balance this very difficult paradox. First, they must embrace and advance timeless principles that make for lasting success, values that have stood the test of time and worked in all generations and in every context. At the same time, these leaders must leverage culturally relevant methods and futuristic resources.

Their core identity is ageless, but their mode of operation is cutting edge and sets the pace for others. They’re passionate to pursue future opportunities, but in their appetite for progress, they never leave behind core virtues, values, and disciples.

Elmore says that leadership approaches have changed over the last seventy years. And so they have. He says we are now in the time of the Poet-Gardener. The Poet-Gardener possesses these ten characteristics:

  1. They are highly relational
  2. They interpret culture well
  3. They are emotionally secure
  4. They share ownership freely
  5. They empower others
  6. They’re comfortable with uncertainty
  7. They listen and foster self-discovery
  8. They embrace the role of a mentor
  9. They’re less formal in structure
  10. They’re driven by service more than ego

They are very aware leaders and read situations before they lead them. As a result, they practice paradoxical leadership as a norm.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:52 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Leadership Development



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