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7 Paradoxes Every Leader Must Master (part 2)

As discussed in part 1, modern leadership is full of paradoxes. To be an effective leader and people manager circa 2016 you have to be aware of the big ones. However, your biggies will look differently than mine.

Nevertheless, if you lead with the Paradoxical Theory of Change you will be just fine (can’t make others become what they are not, but can help them become more of what they are).

Here are the 7 covered paradoxes with specific examples and actions to help you move closer toward mastery of your unique leadership landscape.




1. Build a close relationship with your staff, AND keep a suitable distance.

Imagine you were a therapist and had a patient who felt like a close friend. Due to the ethical code of your profession, you wouldn’t pursue a personal friendship outside the office.

Of course the ethical issues in a manager-report relationship are different but you don’t have to do things outside of office time to have a good relationship. In fact, some of my best collegial relationships have never ventured outside the office.

Tip 1: Take an interest in the personal lives of your reports but be aware of potential conflicts of interest (e.g. jealous team members, dealing with poor performance issues).

Tips 2: Hang out as friends when things change (in today’s ever-changing workplace, you won’t have to wait long).


2. Trust your staff, AND keep an eye on what is happening.

There are two kinds of trust:

1) Trust in quality/reliability (e.g. my computer works when I hit the ‘on’ button).

2) Trust in someone’s promise or commitment (this one takes time to build).

Tip 1: Give trust generously, but smartly. That is, base it on your gut feeling but also on experience.

Tip 2: Openly communicate your approach to your reports – you can even ask them to apply this same approach to you. In fact, the more open and honest you are about this, the more trust you will build.


3. Be tolerant, AND know how you want things to function.

Without a doubt, goals and objectives should be clear and shared. How they are achieved, however, looks differently for everybody.

As a manager you’re expected to help reports set goals and even be directive at times. However, nothing is more demotivating than telling someone HOW they HAVE TO do something.

Tip 1: Whenever possible, co-create the WHAT (goal) and be tolerant of the HOW (path to achievement).

Tip 2: Make your expectations clear and offer your support if needed or desired (receiving no guidance or support can also demotivate).


4. Freely express your view, AND be diplomatic.

Can you spot the difference?

“In my experience, open office space lends itself to flowing communication and fosters better collaboration as a result. What’s your experience?”


“Open office working is the best way to improve teamwork.”

The first statement is based on personal experience and asks about the counterpart’s experience. The second one leaves out the “why”, and doesn’t leave room for any other opinions.

Tip 1: Base your statements on your experience and give the reasons why.*

Tip 2: Ask questions about others’ experience to show you are open to other opinions (you can avoid many unnecessary conflicts this way!).

*As a child, did you ever ask one of your parents “why” and they replied with: “because I’m your mother/father”?

Did you find this a good answer? Probably not. You most definitely wouldn’t appreciate it coming from your boss.


5. Be a visionary, AND keep your feet on the ground.

Once upon a time you could command people to do things. This slowly shifted from strongly telling to nicely asking. By the turn of the 21st century ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to influence and motivate others no longer worked. Now, one of the most important tasks of a leader is to create a vision to engage your workforce.

Tip: When sharing your vision, give examples, tell real stories and ask your partners thought-provoking questions to show that your dreams and big ideas are based in sound thinking.


6. Try to win consensus, AND be able to cut through the noise.

Has anyone ever come to you for your opinion and you slowly realized that they had already made the decision…and were only consulting you for your benefit? How did you feel?

It’s happened to me and it didn’t feel good!

Tip 1: Be open and transparent with your decision-making process (people can feel when you are not, even if you think they can’t).

Tip 2: If you want to build consensus, involve others in decisions when you can, and tell them the real situation when you can’t.


7. Be sure of yourself, AND be humble.

No matter how much you know and how much you’ve experienced, there is NO WAY you are an expert on someone else’s situation. You are an expert on YOUR situation. So be fully confident about what you’ve seen and experienced. However, you’ve never been in their shoes so don’t act as if you have.

Tip 1: Be humble when you approach each individual and their unique, complex situation (share your expertise and experience if needed and desired).

Hear from a HUMBLE EXPERT “why” it has to be this way:



Tip 2: Seek to understand through questions. Don’t make assumptions.


“Why did you do that!? – The customer must have been furious!”


“What circumstances led to your decision? How did the customer react?”

Which statement would put you on the defensive?




You can’t be everything for everybody. Some reports will find you too directive, others not enough. However, you can listen to feedback and adjust your style when needed.

In everything you do, seek to understand first and act second. There is no right way to lead your team or group. It is as unique as every individual in it. Therefore, your paradoxes and the balance you need to find for each of them will look differently than mine.

In parts 1 and 2 I have presented 7 which I consider most relevant to people managers working right now. Apply the relevant tips and examples as needed.

Happy balancing!


Please share one of your challenging paradoxes in a comment below with me and everyone else. 

For my guidance and support implementing these tips, go here.