Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Three “P”s in Paradoxical Leaders

Paradoxes are conflicting choices or conditions that demand equal attention.

The businesses and the world have stepped into the digital era with "VUCA" characteristics (Velocity, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). All leaders should learn the new way to lead and new lenses to see the world, be curious, be learning agile, be empathetic, be diplomatic, and be holistic, as dilemmas or paradoxes are everywhere, consider the situations that require us to balance these seemingly contradictory elements. 

The world is becoming hyper-connected & interdependent every day, and as a consequence, every successful business has to sooner or later go beyond borders. At the same time, the global business dynamic is only becoming more complex, uncertain, and ambiguous, Studies show that effective leaders display a marked level of ease and comfort when dealing with a paradox. Leading complex digital organizations is a challenge that transcends rational management and that requires paradoxical capabilities and behavioral complexity and competencies that distinguish great leaders from others. Paradoxes are conflicting choices or conditions that demand equal attention. Here are three pairs of “P” s in paradoxical leadership.

1. Positive & Paranoid

Positive thinking can move the mountain, it’s critical trait of effective leadership and indispensable power to push the human world forward, positive thinking is like the sunshine, brighten our surrounding, warm up one’s heart and mind; positive thinking means to be cautiously optimistic, shape the world via positive will and freedom of choices. Being positive and paranoid at the same time makes interesting paradox-pair in sharpening contemporary leadership. As being positive doesn’t mean you don’t consider and calculate risk carefully; paradoxical leaders will well balance positive pondering and paranoid wondering, being paranoid also doesn’t mean to be hysterical or overly-emotional but keep one cool-headed, and logical.  To successfully manage paradoxes, organizational leaders need be both positive and have certain level of paranoid, also must learn to deal with contradictions and embrace incompatible forces, rather than choose between them. The more paradox-pairs below will, in fact, strengthen effective leadership skills and enforce leadership disciplines: You can be the subject of a strategic inflection point, but you can also be the cause of one   Andrew S. GroveOnly the Paranoid Survive

  • Candor and diplomacy
  • Opportunity vs. risk
  • Logic and creativity
  • Analysis vs. synthesis
  • Centralized vs. decentralized control
  • Confidence vs. humility
  • Stability vs. dynamic

2. Present & Perception

If “positive & paranoid” reflects one’s paradoxical mindset, then “present & perception” is more about paradoxical vision-circular or tunnel? What do you see, and what can you perceive. As a paradoxical leader, you might need zoom out the “present” as if it were remote, in order to see it holistically; that said, you should see the trees and forest;  As some complex problems simply do not have straightforward solutions, a paradoxical leader can reframe the new box and shape creative solutions. Paradoxical leaders are possibly also visionary leaders, as present and future are both clear picture for them; They can zoom in the blueprint of business as if it were closer, and set right strategy to lead from present to future; an effective leader can also see talent differently, embrace two entities: Who they are and who they want to be and equip them with the tools they need to get from one place to another, they will be able to manage their team’s current reality while simultaneously pushing them forward to reach into future. Leadership is about creating a powerful future that is compelling in the present, that utilizes the best talents, capabilities, and resources of their people and organization to produce meaningful and valuable results. Perception: Perception is reality.  Lee Atwater 

3. Push & Pull

Both for leaders themselves and teams they lead, sometimes, a little push helps smash down the old box or break through the limit. But, pick the right things to push through. Leadership includes prioritization of what is most important and valuable, not just driving tons of activities - which often may have minimal long-term value. On the other side, the power of pull is as “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges”, that is the new trend in today’s social world:  Some of the characteristics of pull are collaboration, flexibility, and bottom-up initiatives. Push, on the other hand, relies on centralized control, conformity and top-down directives. In the world of paradox, you may not get all in every case; however, the way that this is normally solved is to look at things from multiple perspectives and set the principles that challenge you to look at the situation in the new ways from a new angle. Yet as a team, we can pull together to do some incredible work.  Randy West

Being a leader to practice paradox –it may prepare you to become a transformational leader - it means balancing powerful, often paradoxical, priorities while delivering meaningful and valuable results. Such a leader will capture the full spectrum of color and enjoy beauty or complexity in both nature and business world.


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