In Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback’s book, Being the Boss, they explain that leadership is so difficult because there isn’t one way that is always right. Rather, great leaders need to be able to see the truth in both sides of a number of paradoxes. For example:
Paradox: You are Responsible for What Others Do
As the leader you are ultimately responsible for your team’s outcomes, but you cannot control others -you can only influence them. To be successful you must learn to work and include others rather than simply issue directives.
Paradox: To Focus on the Work, You Must Focus on People Doing the Work
Managers are responsible for the work, but manage people. Peter Drucker pointed out, “when you hire a hand it comes with a head and heart attached”. In order to engage your staff to produce quality results, you must take the time to support, develop and encourage them.
Paradox: You Must Both Develop Your People and Evaluate Them
Although assessment is necessary for growth, there comes a point where a boss must abandon the development of an individual who just cannot do the work and act in the best interest of the group by releasing that person from their role. Although it is tempting to focus on just one of these two roles, a good leader will embrace both.
Paradox: You Must Make Your Group a Cohesive Team Without Losing Sight of the Individuals in It
How do you make a group a team – people who do collective work in committed pursuit of a common goal? Part of the answer is leaving room for individuals to thrive by using their unique talents and perspective while all working towards a shared vision. As a leader you facilitate the balance between diversity and cohesion.
Paradox: To Manage Your Group, You Must Manage the Larger Context Beyond Your Group
Although it is easiest to simply focus on your own group, in order to properly provide for your group and best accomplish your goals, you must invest some of your time and energy in understanding the bigger picture of your organization as a whole and even the market in which you are operating.
Paradox: You Must Focus on Today and Tomorrow
Today has demands that must be met, but if you neglect planning for tomorrow, you will be shortchanged. As a leader you must steward your limited resources to best meet the often conflicting demands of Today and Tomorrow.
Paradox: You Must Execute and Innovate
Your group needs to stay the same in some ways and change in others in order to succeed and it is your task to discern when each applies.
Paradox: You Must Sometimes Do Harm in Order to Do a Greater Good
This burden of being the boss is not one to be taken lightly. Your decisions to lay off employees or promote one person over another have real impact on people’s lives. There will be competing considerations that you must sort through and these ethical dilemmas are an important part of your job that you need to prepare for rather than be caught off guard when faced with. You will need both emotional competence and a set of personal values.
You will surely encounter paradoxes every day as a leader, so it’s important that you come to terms with them and grow in wisdom as to how to apply them in specific situations.
This aspect of wisdom that requires discernment for each situation rather than cut and dry rules is exactly the picture painted in the Bible’s primary book about wisdom – Proverbs. Although individual proverbs sound so straightforward when read alone, if you read through the whole book you will find that there are many seemingly conflicting proverbs. The reason for this is wisdom must account for the paradox. For example, sometimes it is best not to answer a fool because you will only stoop to their level, but other times, you must answer them in order to set them right (Proverbs 26:4-5).
As Christian leaders then, you have an aid in “parsing the paradoxes” because true wisdom is from God and begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10).