Paradox Leadership

Paradox Leadership

How to handle paradoxes and benefit from the inherent conflicts and tensions


Wednesday 20 March 2024, 1pm — 2.30pm

This will be an online talk, taking place on Zoom.

The paradoxes of human existence have been studied for millennia in areas such as life and death, self and other, and self-sufficiency and dependence. The constant changing conditions causes contradictions to appear as ordinary conditions in organisational life and might even have become the ‘new normal’ in an unpredictable everchanging organisational environment. Paradoxes are relevant in unpredictable and changing environments which appear to be the prevailing condition in the 21st century. The complex nature of paradoxes where leaders and followers encounter contradictory yet interrelated requirements and where tension and conflicts are inherent lead to either virtuous or vicious cycles of progress or decline. It is difficult and uncomfortable to be in tension and conflicts, however since it is not possible to meet in the middle or somewhere else between the two extremes — paradoxes have to be straddled. If a leader cannot endure tensions and conflicts, then paradoxes often lead to split with destructive consequences.

Leaders and managers have for many years been told that conflicts are causing trouble why they have tried to avoid, hide, or resolve them. The challenges of these approaches are as follows: avoided conflicts are enacted instead of handled leading to a vicious cycle of conflicts; conflicts may be hidden in the attempt to protect others in the organisation, yet they affect all anyway, and learning is not possible; resolutions might mean meeting at 50/50 leaving both parts dissatisfied and the potential of both sides unused. The very job of leading is one of constant negotiation. Thus, conflict represent a core dimension of managing interpersonal relations at work.

Tension is the other inherent part of paradoxes. The Danish word for tension is the same as voltage. As an engineer I know that when I can tap into tension (voltage) it can release energy and my life can be enhanced – we only have to think about all the appliances that makes our life more comfortable and the machines that produce products that improve life. However, if I am not careful when I tap into the tension, I might get a shock and in worst case even die. Leaders need to learn how to manage conflicts and tension for the benefit of the organisation, themselves, and the followers.

Carsten Lind is currently doing a PhD. at Warwick Business School studying leadership of Danish Free Churches (non-state) using psychoanalytically based methods with the aim of finding approaches to help leaders lead well. Originally, he was determined to investigate how to lead volunteers. However, the data showed conflicts that after closer examination are part of paradoxes, and revealed psychodynamic methods to lead in paradoxes and the inherent conflicts and tension.

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