The Four Paradoxes of Leadership


While leaders have to wrestle with a range of conflicts over the courses of their careers, four of them are such deeply entrenched traps that I refer to them as the “four paradoxes of leadership.” Understanding these traps will make it easier for you to avoid them during your leadership journey.

The Ambition Paradox:

It’s no surprise that leaders are often highly ambitious. Being extremely ambitious about your personal success can cause you to lose sight of those around you as well as the organization as a whole. A successful leader needs high levels of ambition, but he or she must be able to direct it toward achieving goals that are clearly beneficial to the business, its shareholders and customers.

The Assumption Trap:

Everyone has to rely on certain assumptions in order to move forward with decisions and projects in an efficient manner. Unfortunately, assumptions can be wrong. When they are, some people will fight tooth and nail to defend their statements (do you hear me, Donald Trump?), at the expense of a more reasonable approach. Effective leaders let go of this fear and find the courage to admit when they’re wrong and have made a mistake.

Differing Worldviews:

It’s easy to believe that our way of understanding things is the most correct way, especially when we’ve primarily interacted with people who share our worldview. With increasing diversity and globalization, however, organizations bring together people with widely varying cultural backgrounds, values and worldviews. Effective leaders create a safe, respectful environment for people with a diverse range of values and beliefs to work together.

The Succession Paradox:

At first glance, it may seem to be a positive indicator of your performance if you are indispensable. In actuality, great leaders build highly capable and talented teams of people who can successfully take over once you have left. Effective leaders aren’t afraid to surround themselves with brilliant professionals who can do as good of a job—or a better job—than they can.

While these four paradoxes may seem obvious, I have seen them repeatedly cause deep, systemic conflicts. So take a moment to ask yourself: Which of these traps am I at risk of falling into? If you can answer that question, you’ll have an easier time adjusting your behavior and achieving the best possible outcome for yourself and the company you lead.

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