7 Leadership Paradoxes: It’s Not What You Thought

Too often the new leader steps forward to take charge, but quickly becomes frustrated when people won’t listen to his demands.

What’s wrong? These leaders don’t see the paradoxes of leadership. What they think they need to do to be a good leader is actually making it harder for them to lead.

Today we’ll talk about seven of those leadership paradoxes.  And once you understand what they are, you will be ready to take the right actions to be successful as a leader.

It’s Not What We’ve Been Led to Believe

Maybe you have seen the scenes from popular movies:  the team is failing, the business is going under, the recruits need to be whipped into shape.

Then in walks the new “Leader” and there is a stirring scene with dramatic music in the background where this new leader lays down the law, often with a lot of shouting and finger pointing, telling everyone exactly what to do, what to say, and even what to think.

It works well on film because that’s Hollywood and it’s exciting. But to pull off an approach like that you would have to already be an expert, already know exactly what you are doing, be infallible.

But most of us are human, prone to mistakes, limited in so many different ways. Most of us don’t have the all-knowing expertise, and I’m not sure many of us would have the energy to lead like that, even if we could.

And here’s another thing: The movies always focus on what this new leader does, and it seems inspirational. But look at it from the perspective of the people they are talking to. How does the future look to them under this leader? Would you be motivated, inspired, and excited? I don’t think so.

Seven Leadership Paradoxes

So if you walk into a leadership position with the idea of taking power and demanding respect, you’ll run head-on into the paradoxes of good leadership.  You will be doing the opposite of what will get you and your team where you want to go.  Here’s what I mean:

To get respect you have to give respect.  From the lowest person on the organization chart to the very top, treat all people with respect.  Speak as though they are in the room with you.  Don’t pass on gossip; don’t talk bad about the boss behind his back; find something nice to say about everyone.

When the leader is courteous and kind to everyone, the rest of the team is likely become like that, too.

                You can tell the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. - Goethe Click To Tweet

To get trust you have to give trust.  When you show that you are willing to trust others, it makes others want to prove themselves worthy of that trust.  So begin with the assumption that someone is trustworthy.  Start out small and build from there.  Tell them that you have faith in them.

If they respect you, they will work hard to be worthy of that trust.  If you start with dis-trust, it never gets better.

 Related:  Components of Trust

To communicate you have to listen.  When everyone is talking, no one is listening; and if no one is listening, it’s all just noise.  When you show patience, empathy, and a willingness to really listen with an open mind, you are giving the gift of your time and attention.

Listen generously, encourage teammates to listen to each other.  In turn they will start to listen to you.  And that’s when real communication begins.

To provide an answer, you have to question.  The more you speak, the less you learn, and the less others learn.  If you play the Shell Answer Man, everyone will come to you for answers and stop thinking for themselves.  Soon you will be making decisions for them that they should be making.

Instead, sometimes it’s better to answer a question with a question.  If they ask you, “What should I do?” ask them, “What do you think you should do?” and then “Why?”  Probe a little deeper.  Be curious.  Ask “Why” a lot and don’t accept glib answers.   Taking this approach, they will grow, and you will both learn.

Leading? Answer less, question more. Click To Tweet

Related: Turn the Ship Around

To get them to do something, you have to do it yourself.  When you model the type of behavior you want to see in them, they are more likely to follow your example.  If you want your team to be on time, respectful, and well prepared, do that yourself.  If you want to cultivate an environment of honesty, competence, and fun, be that way yourself.

One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is set a positive, personal example of how you want your teammates to act.

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. - Emerson Click To Tweet

To be humble, you have to be assertive.  There is a lot of talk these days about the need to be a humble leader.  I agree with most of it.  But being humble doesn’t mean you always do what everyone asks you to.  You aren’t the doormat that everyone wipes their feet on.  You humbly serve the team in the pursuit of its goals, and to do that right, you have to be assertive.

It’s not about a power trip for you, it’s about the success of the team.  So you guide the actions of the others so that they support that goal.  It’s OK to insist that a person do the job right because others are depending on them.  It’s OK to say “no” to something that doesn’t help the team accomplish its goal.

Related:  Humble Leader Paradox

To lead, you have to serve..  Your job is to bring out the best in your teammates – to help them become better, more capable, and to make the team a success.

To lead, bring out the best in your teammates! Click To Tweet

For this to happen, you have to create an environment in which they can thrive, where they have the resources they need to get the job done.  And in that sense, you have to figure out what those needs are and get them in place and on time, whether it is information, raw materials, or a positive working environment.

Related:  Servant Leader

Leadership Paradoxes – The Takeaway

In the end, successful leadership isn’t about parading around, telling everyone what to do.  It’s about modeling the behavior you want, respecting others, taking the spotlight off of you and putting it on your teammates and the goals of your organization.

And through these actions, you will uncover yet another paradox:  by not doing what many believe brings greatness as a leader, you can, in time, become a great leader.

Good luck, keep your focus sharp, work hard, and serve others. I’m sure you will do well!

Lead On!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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