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Leadership Paradoxes #3

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

We have been looking at Tim Elmore’s “The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership – Embracing the Conflicting Demands of Today’s Workplace”. Not exactly the light beach reading that the last week of summer calls for, but hey, it’s great material for me to riff on! Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am not on the beach or at the cottage but have been muscling through a nasty non-covid virus this week. It is keeping me from feeling sorry for myself while I’m inside binge-watching Yellowstone!

We examined the first three of the eight paradoxes in my previous post: Confidence and Humility, Vision and Their Blind Spots, and Visibility and Invisibility. Now for round two!

Paradox #4: Stubborn and Open-Minded

Stubborn determination is needed to get projects to the starting line, let alone the finishing line. Great leaders must be strong-willed, often in the face of adversity and criticism to maintain the hope required to achieve goals.

But being stubbornly committed to pushing a large rock up a hill, over and over again, might be more about denial and the inability to let go. Sometimes admitting defeat in timely manner, cutting losses, learning, and moving on is the right course of action. Hanging on too long is bad for morale and business. Stubbornness on its own is not a business strategy.

Flipping back to Paradox #1, we’re reminded that although stubborn determination is a valued trait, it shouldn’t be confused with ego-driven foolishness. Effective leaders need wisdom even more than knowledge to know they do not have the solutions to all issues. Being open-minded, open to the input and solutions offered by others, and courageous enough to adopt such a solution even if they know it might not work, requires both humility and wisdom.

There is a caveat here of course. Being too open-minded and seeking too much input can be just as, or more, detrimental as being overly stubborn. Too much input, and too many opinions in the face of an indecisive leader can paralyze and demotivate an organization.

Effective leaders work with their teams to formulate and implement plans, then measure the success of their implementation. This keeps things moving forward and assures continued steady improvement. They seek input but then are decisive. Being a leaf blowing in the wind is not leadership. Consensus might sound an honourable motivation, but in truth, it can be a killer.

Paradox #5: Personal and Inherently Collective

A company Vision shared with the team, coupled with a disciplined execution plan, keeps everyone in the organization moving toward the same end. Leaders that focus on the common good of all stakeholders are more likely to experience success than those who strive only for their own well-being. Achieving the collective goals brings out the best in the minds and energies within the team, resulting in shared success or shared failure. That approach seems like common sense.

Great leaders recognize that the collective is greater than any one individual, including themselves. At the same time, they also understand that the collective is made up of individuals with their own human needs, wants and desires – good, bad, or otherwise. Individuals need to be recognized and valued before they will wholeheartedly align with the collective that leaders are trying to move forward.

Collectives are made up of individuals. The collective is only strong when individual views are valued and respected, input accepted, and feelings understood. Unity and alignment of the diverse talents and viewpoints makes the collective strong. Striving for uniformity, while ignoring the individuals who make up the collective, makes for a weak foundation. Unifying the diverse collective is far easier said than done.

Paradox #6: Teachers and Learners

One of the greatest pleasures of being a leader comes in time spent coaching and development with team members. There has been nothing more rewarding in my career than working with young managers, applying the good and bad of my own experiences, and helping them understand their situation better. Witnessing growth and maturity, seeing people reach then exceed their potential, performing at higher and higher levels, is what has made this merry-go-round worthwhile.

To be great teachers, leaders must commit to being life-long learners. Admitting that learning never ends is the place to begin. Most of us learn by doing, and often the hard way. Teaching, in fact, is often one of the best ways to learn as it forces us to process what we already know differently and present it in an effective manner to others.

Much of the time it is not about leaders having the answers, but being able to ask the right questions.

This leaves the final two of Tim Elmore’s “The Eight Paradoxes to Great Leadership” for next time. However, I do feel the wind of a Bonus Round blowing!

Until next time!

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