The Leadership Paradox

If you'd prefer to skip to The Bottom Line, please scroll all the way down. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the entire post.

If you have read my writing or attended any of my talks or workshops, you probably know that the title of this post is one of my favorite phrases. The concept behind this phrase is what I believe embodies the true spirit of servant leadership. Only a servant leader—one who has the tenacity to lead and the humility to serve—is willing and able to balance the full responsibility for bringing about the desired outcome with the recognition that nothing about the journey or the destination is about him/her. Such a leader must have the courage to provide direction, deliver bad news, and take corrective action when necessary, the consideration to do so in a way that creates capability, acknowledges progress, and builds the morale of the team, and the wisdom to apply both of these approaches in different measure as appropriate to each situation.

Leadership is a Balancing Act

It is the ability to balance these two sets of seemingly incompatible characteristics that separates great leaders from the rest. There are plenty of leaders who have no problem declaring that they are “The One,” but that it is also all about them. On the opposite side, plenty of leaders truly get that it is not about them but they don’t consider themselves “The One,” and therefore abdicate their responsibility to lead to the detriment of their organizations. I have come across several people who were willing to be authentic and admit that they couldn’t wrap their minds around how they could simultaneously be “The One” if it wasn’t about them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way, if that is where you find yourself. As long as you remain open to dialogue, being authentic about your lack of understanding is actually the first step in attaining it. The issue is with those of us who intellectually understand the concept but fail or even refuse to practice it.

The Power of Paradox

In my book, The Transformative Leader, I explore the power of simultaneously embracing two seemingly contradictory ideas. The point I want to underscore in this post is just how essential it is for leaders to not only get that they are “The One” and that it is not about them, but also to dynamically embrace many other leadership paradoxes that they may encounter throughout their careers.

Consider that we all have come to proverbial forks in the road where we felt that we had to choose whether to go one way or another. In grade school, we may have faced the decision to be nice or stand up for ourselves. In our careers, we may have had to choose between being honest and straight with a boss who asked for feedback but didn’t really want it, or being diplomatic and equivocal in our communication to stay on the boss’s good side. In our personal relationships, because of their very nature, we are constantly faced with situations in which we can look out for our own personal interests or those of the people in our lives. 

Whether we learned from our good choices or bad ones, we have all drawn hundreds of conclusions during the course of our lives that continue to influence our attitudes and behaviors today. In many cases, these conclusions have resulted in an “either/or” mentality which often has us giving up on the idea of having the best of both worlds. The “either/or” mentality also has a profound effect on our business and leadership strategies. If you think you can either cut cost or deliver a high quality product, you will eventually choose between the two and lose out on one. If you believe that you can either have employees that feel free and empowered or employees that are compliant and deliver reliable results, you will most likely choose one and end up with a watered down version of both. An “and” mentality, on the other hand, will have you look under every rock to figure out how to cut cost and deliver superb product quality, and find a way to empower employees and deliver extraordinary results reliably.

Developing the “and” mentality

This is where the heavy lifting comes in. It is not easy to look inward and examine our mindsets and shift them in a direction that serves our purpose and mission, but that is precisely the work that needs to be done to create a lasting shift in our effectiveness as leaders.

A great place to start is going through the following list and acknowledging some of these that you do well and others that you have the opportunity to get better at:

  • 100% contentment with what is, and 100% tenacity to create what can be

  • 100% commitment to winning, and zero attachment to the scoreboard

  • 100% honesty in expressing disagreement with an idea, and not making the other person wrong for subscribing to the idea

  • Learning from the past, and leaving the baggage in the past and being present

  • Planning for the future, and not worrying about it and being present

  • Having a high sense of urgency, and remaining calm the whole time

  • Being liberated to be oneself, and having the discipline to conform to the established standards of the organization

  • Being completely confident in your ideas and beliefs, and remaining open to new ideas and opportunities for improvement

  • Taking full responsibility for everything, and not blaming yourself for how things turn out

  • Speaking the truth, and extending grace to those who disagree with us or do not embrace our truth as their own

  • Acknowledging you made a mistake, and not condemning yourself for having done so

  • Giving straight corrective feedback, and treating the person with dignity and respect

  • Saying no, and not feeling guilty

  • Seeking to understand corrective feedback, and not coming across as being defensive

The work is to identify 1-2 of these that you know sabotage your relationships, your fulfillment, or your results and be intentional about observing your attitude and behaviors in that area and make course corrections as you go. It helps to declare what you are working on to others around you so they can serve as your accountability partners, but that is entirely up to you. The key is to be intentional about and in action on at least one paradox that you feel would make a difference for you. Once you achieve some victory in one area, you will be energized to tackle more of these and empowered to embrace the power of paradox in the future, no matter where you encounter them. 

THE Bottom line:

We often live “either/or” lives and miss out on the opportunity of having the best of both worlds because we are not intentional about embracing ideas that may seem contradictory at first. Discovering the power of paradoxes—such as leading and serving, having courage and consideration—allows us to transcend “either/or” and take on “and,” thereby creating a powerful method for manifesting transformative possibilities.

About the Author
Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results.
Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.

As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!

Copyright © 2019 The Ghannad Group, LLC, All Rights Reserved.