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Leading through Paradox

TIGNUM Thoughts

May 2nd, 2020
By Brian Wade

The brain loves clarity - it craves black and white situations, where the right and wrong answers are right in front of us. This started from the time we were kids and our parents tried to teach us through experiences that defined the boundaries of what is right and what is wrong. While right and wrong clearly still exist, as does black and white, the world is becoming increasingly gray, which can be quite challenging to any mindset. I have seen this mindset challenge over and over again in our coaching sessions with executives.

In the current crisis, the challenges from leading through paradox are bigger than ever. Should we re-open the economy and get back to normal as fast as possible to save the global economy? Or should we continue to quarantine in place, maintain our shutdown of the economy, and focus on saving as many lives as possible? The answer is yes. So how can these two paradoxes co-exist? At the same time, other constant paradoxes are consuming us, such as:

  • _Should I be on this video call or should I help my daughter with her school work?
  • _Should I reach out to my team members to stay connected or should I get my work done and let them work?
  • _Should I reduce our headcount in preparation for more possible storms ahead or should I show my teams that I have their backs and instead inspire them to partner in creating the new norm?

The list of these paradoxes continue (we didn’t even touch the intracompany and world politics), and leading through such paradoxes requires the highest level of Sustainable High Impact. No longer is the role of a leader to set strategy and manage tradeoffs, but, instead, it is to consciously live between the polarities. A leader who is operating in survival mode (what we describe as sinking or floating in our book Sink, Float, or Swim ) won’t be able to fight through the noise and distractions. They will lack the mental agility required to develop the best solution among a list of not-so-great options. They will become frustrated by the complexity and ambiguity that truly exist, and this frustration can quickly lead to withdrawing and missing the nuances of true leadership.

To succeed among these paradoxes, leaders need to develop and exhibit their Performance Mindset skills of empathy, listening, concise communication, openness, collaboration, purpose (driven by values and ethics), courage, emotional control, and vulnerability. They need to diligently prepare for their key interactions, both internally and externally. They need to have Performance Resilience and be a purposeful Energy Multiplier. Leading through these paradoxes requires leaders to be their best, so they can bring their best to the many challenges they will face - including being their best at home for those they love.

At TIGNUM, we've been able to work with many leaders. The best leaders bring calmness to chaos. They help others sift through complex issues to find the most important areas of focus. They provide, and clearly communicate, a picture of success. They stay highly aware of the many distractions, while keeping everyone on track to tackle complex problems, one step at a time. They give energy and optimism to everyone around them by extinguishing drama and staying focused on the small solutions in front of them. Great leaders stay grounded and authentic so they can help their teams realize that there is no perfection in a world of paradoxes; but this doesn’t have to mean that there is no hope, action, or solution.

Leading is hard, even in the best of times, and leading through a global world full of paradoxes can feel impossible. At the same time, paradoxes create many opportunities, but only if you develop your leadership and personal skills, and only with the catalyst of Sustainable High Impact. You may just find that your Sustainable High Impact is one of the few things you can actually control.

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