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November 2023

The Balancing Act of Paradoxical Leadership


logo: tuesday consulting portrait picture of wendy spalding

by Wendy Spalding, Director of Tuesday Consulting – AGILIUM WORLDWIDE’s member firm in South Africa

I have always been interested in the theory and practices of different leadership styles across the wide range from ‘Authoritative’ to ‘Visionary’. For a long time now, I’ve supported the practices of Servant Leadership as one of the most effective leadership styles.

However, in a recent discussion with a group of non-executive directors of JSE listed companies it became apparent that organizations are now looking to hire for the qualities of a leader who can flex their leadership styles, and most importantly, hold two opposing leadership styles at the same time.

So we are now on the pursuit to identify and develop ‘paradoxical leaders’ who can effectively walk the tightrope of seemingly conflicting leadership styles.

The assumption is that, as businesses continue to face increasingly complex challenges, paradoxical leaders are going to have to navigate different perspectives and come up with creative solutions. They will have to be hard on numbers yet soft on people, assertive and empathetic, embrace competition and collaboration, and integrate innovation and tradition.

According to Ella Miron-Spektor, an INSEAD professor, Paradoxical Leadership embraces the tension between opposites, and uses it to foster flexibility, creativity and adaptability.

Assertiveness is often associated with great leadership,

but it’s important to balance that with empathy. Being assertive can help you set the vision and goals for your team, but empathy allows you to connect with team members and understand their needs.

Paradoxical leaders strike a balance between competition and collaboration. Competition can drive innovation, but when taken too far, it can lead to chaos and negativity. Collaboration, on the other hand, encourages teamwork and inclusiveness. By finding ways to balance both, leaders can both encourage competition that drives innovation and also create a collaborative environment that fosters success.

Integrating innovation and respecting tradition can be difficult too. While innovation drives growth, tradition provides stability and helps to maintain connections to the past. Successful leaders find ways to innovate while respecting tradition, perhaps by modernizing long-held business practices or finding ways to re-introduce traditional elements into contemporary strategies.

Paradoxical Leadership requires both a deep understanding of oneself and others, as well as a willingness to challenge assumptions and take calculated risks. This kind of leadership is not bound by a single style or mindset, but rather requires adaptability to the situation at hand. A blend of seemingly contrary skills and characteristics is what sets paradoxical leaders apart from their counterparts.

Diversity, equity and inclusion form a key agenda for all organizations worldwide. Interestingly, Paradoxical Leadership has been shown to be an effective leadership style when working with diverse teams. It can be hard to keep everyone on the same page and navigate through the differences in perspectives. However, paradoxical leaders can inspire their teams to work together towards a common goal and embrace the differences that diversity brings.

In a world where change is the only constant, we are learning that Paradoxical Leadership is becoming increasingly important. It involves balancing conflicting styles, developing key skills, and overcoming challenges. The key takeaways are to be self-aware, communicate effectively, be flexible, work with diverse teams, and manage resistance to change. In conclusion, Paradoxical Leadership is the art of navigating contradictions and thriving in a world of uncertainty. It’s not an easy path, but it is seemingly necessary to future-proof the organization and keep pace with the evolving business landscape.

Wendy Spalding

Tuesday Consulting | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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