June 10


The Paradox of Leadership: Leverage the Contradictions

By Sara Canaday

June 10, 2021

business leaders, career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership characteristics, leadership qualities, leadership skills, leadership style, management, self-awareness

If you randomly asked someone to describe the qualities of a great leader, you’d probably get these types of responses: confident, energetic, decisive and results-oriented.

Are those accurate? Yes. However, I’d quickly qualify that with a “Yes, but…”

I’ve often written about the paradox of leadership. Bottom line, it’s not as cut and dried as most people might think.

The most effective leaders bring depth and dimension to their professional brands. They know when and how to exhibit varying shades of their strongest attributes – even when those variations might seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. The ones who can perfect that balancing act are often rewarded with highly successful careers.

I’ll give you an example. Imagine there are five, mid-level managers within a company, all of whom are very talented and exhibit extremely high levels of confidence. Which one gets tapped to move to the next level?

It’s usually the manager who can balance that confidence with sensitivity in the right situations. It’s the one who generously shares credit with her team when she steps to the podium to accept a performance award. She can graciously admit making a mistake.

She also takes time to consider the ideas of other team members, even though she already holds the highest of designations as a domain expert. She knows how to temper her fierce confidence with a generous splash of humility…just enough to be open to the possibility that, despite her own expertise, the best solution might come from a different source.

No doubt about it. That’s the manager who is admired by her staff members, trusted by her peers, and valued by top executives. And, everything else being equal, she’s easily the one who gets the nod for a senior position.

Once you recognize how embracing this leadership paradox can be a secret weapon to accelerate your career, you’ll probably think of many strong leaders who demonstrate complementary (or even opposite) attributes in certain situations.

  • Confident yet humble
  • Highly energetic yet calm in a crisis
  • Competitive yet empathetic
  • Task-oriented yet people-sensitive
  • Visionary yet realistic and practical

So how does this paradox apply in today’s volatile, unpredictable and uncertain business environment? The truth is, now more than ever before, it’s critical to leverage the contradictions. Here are a few ways you can accomplish that goal:

·      Balance your commitment to meet business objectives with your commitment to meet the specific needs of your employees.

For long-term success, the well-being of your employees should be top of mind.

·      Balance your intense focus on a set strategy with a willingness to “let go.”

In today’s environment, we need to be willing to adjust on-the-fly and deviate from our original plans.

·      Balance hard data with human insights.

While it’s tempting to rely solely on numbers when moving at the speed of light, this approach will help you get a more complete picture of a problem or challenge.

·      Balance being tech-savvy with being people-centered.

Even though automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are an undeniable part of our future, engaged and inspired employees hold the ultimate key to evolution and innovation.

As you strive to master the delicate art of leadership balance, keep in mind that timing and finesse are essential ingredients. Pay close attention to the setting, the situation and the people involved before you share a side of your personality that might initially seem out of character. Most importantly, be intentional about looking for opportunities where you can offset certain attributes for greater impact.

Instead of fighting the paradox of leadership, start using it to your advantage. The results may surprise you.

What other contradictory attributes have you adopted as a successful leader or seen others apply? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

I look forward to sharing more leadership strategies with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, stay safe and continue learning!

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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