Leadership Paradoxes

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Allison Primack 8 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #157374

    Scott O. Konopasek

    When I teach leadership classes or mentor young leaders, I usually introduce and discuss the concept of paradoxes and stress their importance to leaders. The typical paradoxes we discuss are:

    • The more you give respect to others, the more respect you gain.
    • The more appreciation you express to others, the more you are appreciated.
    • The more power and authority you delegate to others, the more power and control you have.
    • The more you plan, the less you have to plan.

    These discussions usually get lively as the paradoxes are so counterintuitive to those that have not experienced them. The common expectation is that the paradoxes are transactional rather than cumulative. The paradox is realized in the accumulation and consistent application of the principle instead of some kind of immediate quid pro quo.

    What experiences do you have with leadership paradoxes? Do you buy-in to the concept of paradoxes? What paradoxes would you add to my list?

  • #157398

    Allison Primack

    tweeted back the following response from the GovLoop Twitter account:

    paradox, manager POV: having no time to be creative & engaged, which is necessary for good leadership.”

  • #157396

    I think the quid pro quo concept hits the nail on the head. In my experience, good leaders have always encouraged me to work for the betterment of my own career and the organization — not to make them specifically look good. Any manager who assigns work only for his or her own gain doesn’t constitute a leader in my book.

  • #157394

    Mark Hammer

    Your examples are all pleasant, and uplifting. I like them, and concur. A more negative example might be that the more one emphasizes accountability, the less of it one ends up achieving. People are clever at inventing ways for the blame or responsibility to slide off them. The more you stress individual responsibility, the more teflon they spray on themselves.

    Another might be that the more tasks get divided up in the interests of efficiency, often the more inefficiently they are carried out. You would think that a task divided up among many, rather than “owned” by an individual or small group, would result in greater efficiency, but we tend to forget the time and effort taken up by all those components communicating and coordinating with each other.

  • #157392

    A Harvard Business Review article states that managers who are perceived as “tough” (approximate wording) commanded more respect than those who were seen as “fair.”

    That seems like a paradox to me.

  • #157390

    Here is a post about the Harvard Business Review article – the quote is from the original HBR:


    “In management, fairness is a virtue. Numerous academic studies have shown that the most effective leaders are generally those who give employees a voice, treat them with dignity and consistency, and base decisions on accurate and complete information.

    But there’s a hidden cost to this behavior. We’ve found that although fair managers earn respect, they’re seen as less powerful than other managers—less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish—and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles.”

  • #157388

    Scott O. Konopasek

    Thanks for the feedback and the article Dannielle. I usually like what I read in HBR but the article cited sounds more like an updated twist on the old saw “nice guys finish last.” I don’t buy it as a generalizable rule but I have to admit that I have seen the rule in operation– but not in an organization that I would choose to work in. The advancement of a self serving power monger over a fair and respectful leader points more to a lack of senior leadership in the organization than a weakness in a fair-minded style. It sounds like the author of the blog would agree.

    How about this for an appropriate paradox: Those who lead by primarily power reveal themselves as weak, incompetant and insecure. And a corollary: Those who promote them choose to be surrounded by those of similar character as themselves.

  • #157386

    Scott Kearby

    I’m a fan of the Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership … of course easier said than done, but if it was easy anyone could do it!

    1. People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered – Love them anyway.
    2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives – Do good anyway.
    3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies – Succeed anyway.
    4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow – Do good anyway.
    5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable – Be honest and frank anyway.
    6. The biggest people, with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds – Think big anyway.
    7. People favor underdogs but only follow top dogs – Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
    8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight – Build anyway.
    9. People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them – Help them anyway.
    10. Give the world the best you have and you may get kicked in the teeth. Give the world your best anyway.
  • #157384

    Sandra Yeaman

    I’m a dozen years late in getting around to it, but I finally finished First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, summarizing the Gallup Organization’s 20-year effort to interview managers on what they do that makes them great. The paradoxes above dovetail nicely with the that book’s message.

  • #157382

    This rolls back to corporate culture which had huge impact. And I agree with you that I would choose not to work in certain organizations because of their culture.

  • #157380

    Scott O. Konopasek

    Scott- Thanks for these additions. I love paradoxisms. Are these attributable to anyone or are they yours?

  • #157378

    Scott O. Konopasek

    Thanks everyone for your comments and additions to the paradoxisms. Anyone have any more to share?

  • #157376

    Scott Kearby


    … they are not mine. I had read them in a book sometime ago and when I read your post that jogged my memory. To find them I just googled “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership” & here’s what I found …


    The Paradoxical Commandments were written by Kent Keith in 1968, when he was 19, a sophomore at Harvard College. They were part of The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, his first booklet for high school student leaders.

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