Leadership Paradoxes 4 - Wrap Up
Time to bring our exploration of Leadership Paradoxes to a close by reviewing the last two of Tim Elmore’s “The Eight Paradoxes to Great Leadership”. The point I want to make is that to be truly great, leaders must recognize the paradoxes that exist in themselves, in those they lead, and in the situations they face. Once there, effective leaders can move fluidly within each paradox as the situation demands.
Paradox #7: Model High Standards and Gracious Forgiveness
I think it’s common sense to recognize that leaders in any role seek to demand the best from those they lead; we all want the people on our teams to have high levels of integrity. This protects the health of the team, the business, and all stakeholders.
For this approach to really take hold in a culture, Elmore rightly states that great leaders must also realize that team members will drop the ball on occasion. The appropriate response is to demonstrate a willingness to absolve those who acknowledge they have failed to meet the standard and choose to improve. We’re all human, right? Personally, I must have suffered multiple concussions from the times I fell flat on my face morally, regardless of my intentions to do anything but.
For Elmore, forgiveness isn’t approving the moral shortcoming itself, but choosing to rise above it. We want to encourage our people to take appropriate risks, to innovate and take initiative. Mistakes are the natural and somewhat desirable outcomes of taking calculated risks.
More than simply making mistakes, acting contrary to company core values goes a little deeper than stifling risk-taking and innovation. If our people demonstrate that they are the wrong people by acting against the essence of the culture, I’m not sure that I want them around for long, regardless of how smart, innovative, and willing to push the status quo they are. Just sayin’. This is a situation where forgiveness can be extended, but a difficult decision still must be made.
Taking this one step further, I am a huge believer in the idea that gracious forgiveness is continually extended to us all – no matter what we have done, do presently, or continue to do. It is there for us always when we allow ourselves to break out of the trap of our shame, tap into the grace, and allow it to transform us. There are no judgment criteria when it comes to radical grace; it’s there for all of us, deserving or not – should we choose to accept it.
Beyond this, to authentically forgive others we must be willing and able to accept grace and forgive ourselves for our misdoings. Sure, leaders must live to the higher moral standards expected by others if we expect others to do the same. People sniff out hypocrisy miles away. We have to live the example we are trying to set. In fact, leaders must expect more of themselves than of others. It comes with the territory, or it at least should.
Yet our people must see that we too are human – that we fail and that we are able to admit those failings and forgive ourselves so that we can authentically forgive the people we lead. Our political leaders, those of all stripes, would do well to stop blowing smoke and trying to cover up their shit. Admit it, take responsibility, ask for and accept forgiveness, and move on in a new way. What example does this send if our leaders demonstrate that it is okay to demonstrate no or low personal responsibility? It bodes ill.
The culture of blaming others for everything has the potential to tear at the fabric of our families, workplaces, and societies. Yeah, bad things happen to us that aren’t our fault, suggests Laura McKowen author of We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, but they may still be our responsibility to deal with…it is unfair that it is your thing, but it is your thing. I cannot recommend her writing enough! Be sure to check her out at Laura McKowen - Bestselling Author, Founder of The Luckiest Club, as there are some amazing transformational life insights within - whether sobriety is your thing or not.
Paradox #8: Timely and Timelessness
And finally, great leaders need to display timeless principles while applying them to current realities, situations, and issues. To effectively sense and chart future paths and deal effectively with the immediate situations, effective leaders must understand the past.
More important than simply understanding the past, we must demonstrate our ability to apply the lessons the past offers us. And we will find there are a great many lessons, should we open ourselves to hearing them.
This is such a brilliant point made by Tim Elmore. Too often, I fear, in search of the new we are overzealous in wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water. What else is going to anchor us as we go hurtling toward the future if we are not willing to appreciate where we’ve been, and then to apply that foundational wisdom? We need something to keep us grounded and with a healthy perspective is this high rate of change world. I'm not talking about maintaining status quo or being fearful of change, I am advocating for informed change rather than change for the sake of change.
As I have said in this blog before, accumulating knowledge and information is great stuff. The search for more of it is both admirable and necessary. We should always be pushing the boundaries of what is out there to learn and experience. But without the wisdom acquired from our past, our principles and traditions (both appropriate and not so much), this never-ending push for new and more can slide into darkness and danger before we realize it.
Yes, leaders need to act quickly and be decisive, but ignoring the lessons of the past is fraught.
I believe that great leaders must be aware that all people hold paradoxes. To make it even more complicated, we do not consistently apply these paradoxes from one situation to the next. We, as people, are never fully ‘this or that’. Rather we are both ‘this and that’ and we slide along the scale of paradox with regularity and necessity. Effective leaders recognize this within themselves and, with high levels of awareness, respond with intention to the unique requirements of their current reality.
Perhaps the greatest of all leadership paradoxes, in my opinion, is that great leaders must demonstrate the skillful application of both love and power. As Richard Rohr states in a homily based on his book “Quest for The Grail",
"Love without power is only sentimentality...power without love becomes brutality and that's what every culture instinctively moves toward: self-protection and self-aggrandizement."
Great leaders understand and live this truth, applying both love and power with great awareness, sensitivity, and intentionality.
What would the world look like if Love was given higher billing than power? This is a never-ending quest indeed.
Until next time!