"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. After reviewing hundreds of research articles and books on leadership success, I'm convinced that leaders can achieve eXtraordinary results by eXpanding their capacity to hold opposing ideas and manage the tension of leadership. Here are three paradoxical qualities to get you started.
1. Lead with Your Strength and Manage Your Weakness. Eight-time gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps would have come up short if he tried to become a horse jockey. He was born to swim. Research on more than a million employees by the Gallop organization teaches us that, if we want to excel, we should nurture our nature. Great leaders understand, leverage, and celebrate their team members’ "YOUnique" gifts and talents. Knowing thyself (and your team) and then bringing your best to life every day are the first steps of achievement, work satisfaction, and life-long happiness.
Yet Michael Phelps knew that talent alone wasn't enough. He swam every day, worked on his weaker strokes, and continually searched for motivation from the naysayers. He managed the tension between nurturing his nature and shoring up his weaknesses to win. How can you leverage your team's strengths and manage their shortcomings?
2. Focus Like a Laser and Keep the Big Picture in Mind. Great athletes like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods are passionate about winning the most esteemed races in their sport. Yet they also aims to elevate their sport. It's ironic that motivation flows from a dedication to specific goals and a connection to the big picture. How do you and your team stay focused on your daily objectives AND still keep the big picture in view?
3. Celebrate Me and We. While the media kept telling us how great Phelps was, he often reminded us how terrific the team was:
"It wouldn't have been possible without the help of my teammates." Phelps said. "For the three Olympics I've been a part of, this is by far the closest men's team that we've ever had. I didn't know everybody coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single person very well. The team that we had is the difference."
Sometimes we forget that behind every great athlete and leader is a team. It's not all about the leader or the team. To achieve success in today’s interdependent world requires both the me and we mentality. How are you applauding each team member's individual contribution as you build teamwork?
Scientists are finding that the ability to "hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time" is mandatory in today's complex, global environment. In the book ‘Good to Great,’ researcher Jim Collins identified personal humility and professional will as cornerstones of great leadership. (He and his team spent about 15,000 hours researching the keys to enduring organizational success.) Authors Lombardo and Eichinger reported in their book ‘The Leadership Machine’ that dealing with paradox and ambiguity are two critical, yet underdeveloped, skills needed in leaders. (They collected data on 6,000 managers, at all levels, of 140 companies.)
So, how well do you manage paradox? Most leaders need work in this area, especially in today's challenging environment. The importance of managing paradox and the tension in work is why I developed my own, evidence-based eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM - See below). I reviewed hundreds of scientific studies to discover what really works in leadership. Our new course, ‘ParadoXical Leadership - How eXceptional Leaders Achieve eXtraordinary Results in taXing Times,’ shows leaders how to apply the XLM to their difficult situations. They also learn how to map and manage the paradoxical tensions they face. (For a more complete description of the course or a list of the top ten ‘paradoxical tensions’ most organization face, e-mail me DJensenSSS@aol.com ).