The Paradoxes of Great Leadership

A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition, which, when investigated or explained, may prove to be well-founded or accurate. My assertion, based on the evidence and my background of experience in leadership development over the last 35 years, has shown me that great leaders operate powerfully inside a paradox.

These are the ten paradoxes that great leaders deal with daily:

  1. Employees, vendors, doctors, and investors are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. They are all a pain in the ass; appreciate them anyway. Leaders listen empathetically. Leaders don’t make their employees, vendors, doctors, and investors wrong. When leaders listen, they are appreciated right back by their employees, doctors, and investors.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. There’s no better investment in your business future than to do good when no one is looking and when there are no strings attached. People will remember you and will respond accordingly.
  3. When you become successful, you will win false friends and real enemies.  Succeed anyway. Great leaders see the best motives in people, and they address and speak to those motives. And, most of the time, people will rise to the occasion. If not — well, at least they’ve revealed themselves openly, and you’ll be able to exit that person quickly.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. This directive has an uncanny way of breaking itself. Much of the good you do will not be forgotten, and will assuredly come back to you when you expect it the least and need it the most.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. That is the essence of a leader’s communication. The ability to speak honestly and frankly but to do so without harming others will make you powerful. Language is the engine of power. Use it with care.
  6. The best leaders with the grand visions can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. Small minds wield small weapons.
  7. People favor underdogs but only follow top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway. Help them become top dogs. Become one yourself. Now you will have worthy colleagues and partners.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. The greatest strengths you build are within yourself and your team, and these cannot be destroyed by the bad economy or by the catastrophic occurrences.
  9. People really need help but may attack you when you do help them. Help people anyway. Recognize the attacks as a sign of their fear and vulnerability. Reassure and strengthen them. Doing so will bring forward the best they have to give you.
  10. Operate as the highest thought of yourself, even though you might get “kicked in the stomach.” Give the world the best of who you are anyway. Kicks in the stomach are temporary. A true entrepreneur is one who will not be dissuaded.

These are the paradoxes great leaders engage with every day. These are my own areas of challenge — every day. To operate masterfully in these paradoxes requires discipline not to get sucked into the harmful and negative side of the paradox. I know that for me, it takes real consciousness — operating consistently with my word — and having an open heart. Being and staying conscious, honoring myself as my word, and having the ability to stay connected are the elements that challenge me every day. It is evident: if you can’t operate successfully within these ten paradoxes, you will fail as a leader.

Ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 within each of the paradoxes — 1 being not at all and 10 being all the time — go through each one and rate yourself. If under a 9, look at what you are currently doing or saying within that paradox and amend your ways.

— Marc