Paradoxical Leadership: Key Learnings from Tekara’s Founder

Crossroads

Paradoxical Leadership

In working with several clients over the last few months as well as noticing my own leadership behaviour working with the Tekara community as we go through change, I have come to understand more clearly the power of “paradoxical leadership”.

 

In these times of constant and complex change, the paradox of leadership comes into play, where leaders have to recognize that they have to cultivate conditions for the organization to move forward and unleash the potential in people, rather than direct the change. Paradoxical leadership is a way of leading the wholeness of an organization and cultivating connections in the system toward greater creative adaptability.

What emerges is a different way of being that leads to a different way of doing. Looking at organizations as complex systems, paradoxes are not then seen as problematic but rather as a way to create tension from which creative solutions can emerge.

The Two Sides of Paradoxical Leadership

Paradoxical leadership incorporates both the need for a leader to be strong in terms of a strong sense of direction, a clear sense of self, and definitive values. It also incorporates an ability to let go, be open-ended, allowing the organization to evolve, to respect that development, and let it take its own course. Both guidance and open-endedness are needed to lead in complex, changing systems. The fundamental paradox is that leadership is about being a leader by not directly leading.

Practices and Characteristics of Paradoxical Leadership

Allowing:

  • Allowing things to emerge including ambiguity, contradictions, uncertainty, messiness, mistakes and experimentation.
  • This paradoxical leadership practice is providing direction without directives; fostering freedom with guidance; ensuring authority without control and supporting solutions to unfold rather than trying to push for the right answers too quickly.
  • The leader’s role becomes one of creating the right conditions (practices and structures) that will nurture people, foster connections and relationships, and help them grow.

Accessibility:

  • This paradox is about leaders being visible (i.e. as available when needed) and invisible when not needed and simply getting out of the way.
  • Accessibility also points to leaders being accessible both physically and emotionally to others in the organization for guidance and coaching as needed.

Attuning:

  • This involves the paradox of knowing and not knowing. Knowing through hunches, intuition, senses, and yet not knowing all the details.
  • To be attuned, leaders need to learn to empathize; listen and respond accordingly; be intuitive; be deliberate and intentional; and have faith and trust in the process.

Your Turn!

How are you showing up as a Paradoxical Leader?

Is there a benefit to understanding and acknowledging Paradoxical Leadership?

Please Join the Conversation by leaving a comment sharing your thoughts, experiences, and perspective!

I have based this blog on my own recent experiences as well as the work of Roger Lewin and Birute Regime and their extensive research in complexity science and business success.
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Peter Lee