Embracing the Paradoxes of Leadership

Posted in News

Leaders need to successfully navigate several different types of tensions in order to be effective in today’s workplace.  Being a leader continues to become increasingly complex, especially when choosing which style of leadership to use in any given situation.  Heroic leaders or traditional leaders who rely on positional authority will run into challenges since workforce expectations and technology are changing much too quickly.  Collaborative leaders who aren’t decisive and only listen and who share but never hold power will also struggle to be effective.  Thus, there is always a polarity or underlying tension to hold.  It is not about one style or the other, but “yes and”.  These tensions however create significant stress for leaders as they are often unsure of what competencies, skills, and behaviours to exercise in particular situations.  To ignore them however poses a greater danger.

Tension 1: The Expert versus the Learner

Traditional leaders were expected to be experts in their field.   Today, it is often important to be able to learn, adapt to new ways and even “unlearn” the past.

Tension 2: The Constant vs. the Adaptor

The traditional approach values decision-making, conviction, and consistency.    In fast-changing environments, leaders often have to reverse or adapt decisions and change course in response to new information.

Tension 3: The Tactician vs the Visionary

Traditional leaders excel at operational clarity and well-defined plans.  Emerging leaders require a clear vision but may not have a concrete roadmap.  They must balance the risk of providing a “north star” for their team while including them in developing and executing upon goals.

Tension 4: The Teller vs the Listener

There is a fine balance in telling others what to do and how to do it versus listening carefully to others before deciding.    It is a fine line between gathering important information from others and also applying their own valuable knowledge.

Tension 5: The Power Holder vs the Power Sharer

Traditionally, leaders led from the top, making decisions and taking independent actions.  Conversely, they should consider empowering others to achieve goals so as not to alienate promising talent.

Tension 6: The Intuitionist vs the Analyst

This polarity refers to managing “gut decisions” based on experience versus basing decisions on data.  Being aware of outdated or biased heuristics can be important, but so can paying to insights from past experience.

Tension 7: The Perfectionist vs the Accelerator

Too often, delivering a perfectly finished product or solution was valued.  Currently, taking action and failing fast and adapting appropriately which can lead to innovation is often more important. It is managing the balance of delaying new services until perfected versus poorly tested results.

(adapted from HBR: Every Leader Needs to Navigate These Tensions, Joran, Wade and Teracino, Feb. 20)

What can leaders do to navigate these tensions?

Consider getting feedback from others and leadership coaching to help improve your effectiveness by developing the ability to move between the two styles as the context requires.

A leadership coach can help you:

a)      Increase self-awareness

b)      Learn, adapt, practice

c)      Develop contextual awareness

Contact Michelle at Chambers and Associates (905) 626-6494 for more information and to speak with one of our leadership coaches.

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