The Leadership Paradox

In his book, ‘Good To Great’ Jim Collins identified that the majority of Leaders who take their companies on the journey from good to great, are in fact a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

They are Authentic Leaders by being true to their nature and their values, &, it is as if he says, they are from Mars! For they are self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy!

This undoubtedly marks them out from their Leadership counterparts who are by and large high profile, to cool for school types, with big personalities and able to make even bigger news headlines.

An even greater paradox however, rests on a fundamental question. Are any of those Leaders with this paradoxical blend that enables them to be both powerful and successful in what they do whilst being shy and retiring, or indeed any of those big personality, celebrity type Leaders, any better placed or better understanding because of the 78,000 books on Leadership & Management that have been published over the past 45 years? And it’s a sector that is currently worth over $50Billion per annum worldwide, so that is an awful lot of money being spent in the pursuit of effective leadership!

We have already written plenty about Leadership in the many forms it can take in practice; the key traits, characteristics, behaviours, approaches and styles.

A current debate that is taking place on LinkedIn in the CIPD Members forum, is promulgated on the assertion: “Authentic Leadership is a fad and just a way to con people!”

Well, Authentic Leadership is certainly not new and neither is it a fad. We think Bill George nailed it in his book in 2003, ‘Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering The Secrets Of Creating Lasting Value’. Whilst the ‘Centre For Creative Leadership’, Harvard, Stanford et al have all been looking at it, as well as at the many other forms of Leadership for the past several decades, & a line of thought and reasoning can even be traced back on the subject through Shakespeare to Socrates.

The fundamental fact is Leadership is a paradox and to accept this is in great part to begin to understand what it really means and really is in practice.

Organisations are Complex, People are Complex, the World is Complex. As there are different forms of complexity and challenges, scenarios and settings, drivers and tensions, there are also different forms of leadership to be applied in particular situations and the test is to be able to match and apply the right sort of Leadership with the corresponding challenges and complexities of the setting. Which is not something that can be readily done if the Leader is by nature without principle, heart, discipline, passion, resilience or purpose. Or, if they lack genuine self-awareness, or the ability to connect and engage, by for example, creating a compelling narrative for their vision and also being a Story Doer!

Great Leaders are paradoxical and they will be comfortable with this paradox. They will also, as Jim Collins explains, focus amongst all else on the following:

First Who…Then What — Rather than beginning by setting a new vision, or strategy, our paradoxical Leader will instead ensure that firstly they have the, “right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”: And then they figure out where to drive it!

Confronting The Brutal Facts, Whilst Never Loosing Faith — Jim Collins describes this as the Stockdale Paradox and we have talked about this before in previous Blogs.Put simply it’s the ability to maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of all the difficulties, whilst having the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.

Finding Simplicity Within Three Circles — Also known as the Hedgehog Concept, this is basically about transcending the curse of competence by having a simple concept that reflects a deep understanding of three intersecting circles — How, What, Why. As Collins explains it, “Just because something is your core business — just because you’ve been doing it for years, or perhaps even decades — doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it — &, if you can’t be the best in the world at your core business, then this cannot form the basis of your enterprise”.

Having A Culture Of Discipline — When you have disciplined people, you don’t need a hierarchy; when you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy; when you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls: And when you combine a culture of discipline with a culture of entrepreneurship you get, “The magical alchemy of great performance”; & finally

Using Technological Accelerators — Thinking differently about the role of technology in the business and not using it as a primary means of driving change! As Dr Janet Jackson identified such a primary focus was in fact one of the four key reasons organisational change initiatives fail because they fail to engage the workforce in any meaningful way whatsoever. Yet paradoxically these Leaders are pioneers in the application of carefully selected technologies.

This post was written by Paul Mudd of The Mudd Partnership. I hope you found this post valuable. If you did, please scroll down and hit the ‘recommend’ button — it would mean a lot!

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