Paradoxical Leadership

Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Paradoxical Leadership

An interesting recent article on dialectics argues that good leaders should not focus so much on being consistent in their decision making, sticking to their commitments, and remaining on message. The current dynamic business environment requires leaders to embrace 'Paradoxical Leadership', and maintain a dynamic equilibrium in their organizations.

Paradoxical leadership is a leadership approach that focuses on purposefully and confidently embracing the paradoxes (or complexities) of business instead of being consistent. It requires leaders to:
a) Become consistently inconsistent and focus on managing that inconsistency.
b) View resources in a different lens and work hard to grow the ‘pie’.
c) Be emotionally and cognitively open to the new and develop strategies of coping with ambiguity.

Shifting to paradoxical leadership is challenging and time consuming. The roles and responsibilities of senior executives often lead them deeply identify with one goal or another, fostering conflict. To leverage the power of paradox (or complexities), leaders must manage a dynamic equilibrium and equip their senior team with supporting organizational competencies by requiring them to both separate and connect opposing forces:
  • SEPARATING – Pull apart the organization’s goals and value each of them individually, so as to identify the distinct needs of groups of different agendas.
  • CONNECTING – Find linkages and synergies across the goals by designing roles and processes intended to integrate these separate goals.
To cultivate paradoxical leadership and reach a balance between the separating and the connecting, smart leaders can design metrics, rewards, and financial statements for each organizational goal, and complement those with additional metrics and rewards that depend on the success of the entire organization.

Source: Smith, W., Lewis, M. and Tushman, M. (2016). "Both/And" Leadership: Don't worry so much about being consistent. HBR, 94 (May), pp.63 - 70.

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