Managing leadership paradoxes.

paradoxesLeading is a paradox. On one hand leaders are meant to lead and on the other hand nobody wants to be led. Followers are not always looking for a leader to lead them. They are looking for someone to inspire them. The truth of the matter is that smart people don’t want to be led; they just want to be inspired.

Leaders encounter paradoxes everyday. As a leader, you have to make decisions; and most often these decisions are quite paradoxical in nature. For instance a leader must know when to fold and when to hold. The battling mind of a leader is punched with questions either for creative abandonment or for creative perseverance. Moreover, leaders are often faced with challenges to have a broad vision of the future and at the same have an intense focus on the present. They must focus on execution and at the same time must focus on the emerging opportunities. They have to pay attention to the details and at the same time must also keep a peripheral vision to think outside the box. All in all too paradoxical, indeed!

What is even more paradoxical to a leadership role is to actually adhere to the fact that leaders are not only into building their business but also into cannibalizing their business. In this ever-changing business landscape, leaders are meant to act as creative destroyers to destroy something in order to build something else. What this clearly means is that; as a leader you must be able to disrupt your business before someone else disrupt it. Now, this is a big paradoxical question that puts leaders into a frame of mind, perplexing their minds into thinking – to be or not to be. The truth of the matter is that: your present success is your bigger impediment to all your future success. As Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” What might have worked in the past need not work in the future. The so-called successful business models, product lines and services are getting disrupted day by day. Amidst these volatile changes, leaders are often quizzed with a paradoxical question whether to manage the statusquo or to change it completely. I call this paradox, “the excellence paradox”. As leaders we are asked to seek excellence in everything we do. Since Tom Peters co-wrote the book ‘In search for excellence’ about 32 years ago, excellence was sought after as the epitome of corporate performance and productivity, the world over. But sadly and steadily the corporate world has moved from being excellent to being relevant. Some of the excellent products and services that we all admired do not exist today. For example Kodak and Blackberry were excellent companies with excellent product ranges. The big question is ‘are they relevant today?’

The excellence paradox means that leaders must not only peruse excellence but also seek relevance in everything they do. Excellence without relevance is pure Darwinism. Seeking relevance for today and tomorrow is the new path for excellence. This means that leaders must equip themselves with insights and skills to navigate their corporate ships in the turbulent waters of constant change.

Relevance has amazing powers. It takes away pessimism and uncertainty and motivates people to really upgrade themselves to meet the challenges of the future. It fuels a sense of purpose that can stimulate a quest for adventure. It not only sustains your success but also build new ways to succeed even faster, better and cheaper. Relevance is the answer. It is also the only question that leaders must keep asking continuously: “How can we be more relevant for today and tomorrow?”


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