Working with paradoxes in the context of leadership development
Published in Holland Management Review, January 2005
A number of recent management publications have painted the practice of leadership as a collection of conflicting demands. Modern leaders must be in possession of a number of mutually contradictory skills. Quinn (1991) speaks of ‘competing values’ and describes pairs of opposite values that keep each other in check. For example, in addition to knowing what is going on internally in the organisation, leaders must also be excellent networkers who can sense what is happening in their environment. Many managers have the feeling that devoting attention to the outside world robs the focus from internal affairs.
This focus on the paradoxical facets of leadership indicates that another perspective is slowly starting to emerge regarding the complex reality of organisations. The quest for the one, true theory of leadership is disappearing, making way for the search for the connection between various aspects of leadership.
In this article, I discuss paradoxes as an instrument for another way of thinking. I will attempt to separate paradoxes from dilemmas, and identify the challenge that they present to modern managers. Finally, I will investigate the role that working with paradoxes can play in the training of future leaders.