It captures nicely the paradox of effective leadership which is the second principle of leadership described in our book, Developing Management Skills. (2012) page 15.
A good leader holds the line holds firm to the strategic direction, holds people’s motivation. Keeps the vision running and holds onto the goal.
Paradoxically a good leader also knows when to fold, when to pass in their hand and wait for another round. They recognise when perseverance is about to become persecution.
They understand when the refusal to let go is a refusal to admit a mistake.
Consistent leaders work hard and are reliable. They set goals for themselves and their employees. They are diligent and possess resilience and grit.
On the other hand, great leaders are agile. Markets demand that companies and people adapt and change constantly. But just as consistency can become rigidity, agility can become a lack of focus when it isn’t tempered by consistency.
John Coleman in a recent HBR article identified this balance between consistency and agility is what makes a truly strategic leader.
This exquisite judgement call comes of course from years of making mistakes where they held on too long or folded too soon.
It’s an elegant conflict.
Folding too soon might reveal a lack of resilience and perseverance, when holding on would result in an effective resolution. Holding on far too long can display stubbornness, bias and arrogance.
The Judgement in this dilemma is exquisite.
What is this skill?
Edgar Schein sees humility in this approach and also the capacity to keep oneself out of the assessment. It is ego free.
The leadership skill is being strong about the direction and completely flexible about the ongoing analysis of the often constantly changing data.
This leadership is the embodiment of Peter Senges Fifth Discipline principles (1990) especially personal mastery and building shared vision.
It also reflects Peter Block’s views expressed in Stewardship (1983) where holding on and letting go are parts of a learning journey process not a destination process.
‘ Individuals who see themselves as stewards
would choose responsibility over entitlement and
hold themselves accountable to those over who may exercise power. ‘
This kind of leadership responsibility is necessary for paradoxical leadership.
How do you develop this skilled responsibility?
A Cherokee elder explained to a grandson;
” There are two wolves inside each one of us and they fight constantly. One is anger, greed, desire for power and position, ego, deceit and self-interest. The other is peace, joy, humility, hope, authenticity and love.
‘Which wolf wins? ‘asked the boy
The Elder replied, ‘The one that you feed.’
Perhaps I shall let Kenny Rogers conclude this piece-
“Every gambler knows that the secret to surviving
Is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep
Cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
If you would like some help with your paradoxical leadership please contact me.