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Leadership Dilemmas: Balancing 6 Paradoxes for Bigger Impact

May 24, 2024

One thing I know for sure about leadership: it’s challenging. Perhaps the hardest thing to excel at, other than parenting. And one of the reasons for that is the endless balancing act among competing priorities. Leaders are constantly pulled between seemingly contradictory needs of the team and the organization.  

To have a bigger impact as a leader, you need to build trust among the members of the team.  Building trust requires achieving the right balance between competing needs. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has identified 6 leadership paradoxes that tend to surface during times of disruption.  

Capitalizing on Strengths vs. Going Against the Grain. When do you rely on your own strengths – and those of your team – and when do you challenge the status quo and level up on your expectations? This is a balancing act of valuing and appreciating existing contributions while asking for more. In times of disruption, you may want to back off; yet “raising the bar” on performance expectations will lead to growth and learning.

Self-Reliance vs. Trusting Others. It is often difficult to relinquish control and the knowing that if you do it, it will be done the way you want when you want. If you never trust others enough to delegate important tasks, however, you are doomed to doing them yourself – forever. Trusting others is a critical part of their development process and demonstrates your confidence in their abilities.

Optimism vs. Realism / Openness. As a leader, it is important to paint a vision of the future that you are optimistic about achieving – as a team. This needs to be balanced against a willingness to accept the sometimes “brutal truth” that is the day’s reality.  Being open to hearing that truth will encourage people to tell you when things go wrong instead of hiding it out of fear.

Being Tough vs. Being Empathetic.  Showing compassion to individual needs is important, especially in times of disruption.  Everyone experiences disruption differently. However, lowering your performance expectations is not the answer, and that may seem “too tough” to some, but finding the right balance requires good, honest, open communication with individuals, not just the team in total.

Sense of Urgency vs. Realistic Patience. When you are under pressure to perform and deliver results, it’s important to act with a sense of urgency on behalf of the organization.  At the same time, you need to recognize that individuals will process changes and challenges at different paces.  Your ability to honor that will go a long way to getting people to align with and commit to the vision and the goals.

Catalyzing Change vs. Coping with Transition. We all know that the one constant in life is change.  And a leader’s job is to be a catalyst for change in the organization. Doing that with sensitivity to people and the speed at which they process change internally is a bit of an art, and well worth the effort. It enables buy in and commitment.

What do you think about these paradoxes? What has been your experience with them? What other competing needs and priorities are you currently facing and how is it going? I would love to hear from you on this topic. If you are feeling the challenge of leadership, and need some help with that, let’s talk. There are lots of ways I can help.




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