6 Paradoxes of a Leader

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Paradoxes can be funny like when comedian John Stewart said, “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn up by religion” or when Yogi Berra said, “Nobody comes here anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Paradoxes can be funny but they can also be very important in framing an effective leadership strategy. Soren Kierkegaard talked about the huge impact paradoxes can have in our thinking when he wrote, “One must not think slightingly of the paradoxical…for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.” 

I love what Danish Physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr stated about how things begin to move forward when a paradox shows up, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” 

Jesus was the ultimate paradoxical leader and turned the religious institutions of his day upside down when he stated “…that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.” John 12:24-26

Lots of paradoxical statements in those three verses!

To be a paradoxical leader you have to learn to embrace the subordinating conjunction “while”. “While” means 1) at or during same time: at or during the same time that  2) even though: in spite of the fact that.

Here are six paradoxes that every effective leader must face. The question is, how do you live out the “while”?

PARADOX #1 You must be building and recruiting and investing in leaders and getting out of the way, WHILE still being in the trenches.

PARADOX #2 You must be the inspiration, positive, optimistic voice for your team, WHILE making sure you take care of yourself when you are discouraged or drained.

PARADOX #3 You must invest in other people’s gifts and talents, helping to bring out the best in them, WHILE making sure you are growing and stretching and getting better at your gifts and talents.

PARADOX #4 You must do something for a long period of time (consistency) in order to grow an organization that has deep roots, an enduring vision and a sustainable future, WHILE making sure you try new things that allow you to get out of your comfort zone and to experience other passions in your life.

PARADOX #5 You must be a big picture, structure building, org-chart expanding leader, WHILE remembering that the most important part of your life is about close friendships, family and a personal faith.

PARADOX #6 You must never get too high or too low, knowing that leading is a long journey, and that it’s not a sprint but a marathon, WHILE remembering that every moment counts and every encounter is sacred and all you have is the present.

Would love to hear how you live out these paradoxes and what it looks like in your life or organization.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
― Carl R. Rogers