The Paradox of Leadership

user Darren Gold

At its core, leadership is about the ability to leverage paradox. There are five polarities that are critical to effective leadership.

Last week, I moved into a new role – the CEO of The Trium Group, the consulting and coaching firm where I have been a Partner for the past six years. I have had the incredible fortune in my career to have been part of several extraordinary organizations over the past 25+ years. But Trium stands alone. For the past 23 years, Trium has focused on a singular mission – to change the world by changing the way business leaders think. That is what we do each and every day. And we do it consistently with excellence and integrity.

While I focus on questions of leadership all day long, the start of a new role has given me an opportunity to reflect more deeply and personally. At its core, leadership is about the ability to leverage paradox. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the sign of first-rate leadership is the ability to hold two opposing truths simultaneously and still function well. And there are no shortages of opposites in our increasingly complex world. How does a leader give autonomy to those she leads while still holding them accountable? How does one deliver bottom-line profit and drive above-average growth? How does a leader honor what’s already working and yet still drive critical change? These are natural, healthy tensions that not only need to be managed but leveraged. The key question to ask as a leader is, “How do I get the benefits of both and minimize the downsides that come from choosing one to the neglect of the other?” Of the dozens of so-called polarities, I have found the following five to be the most important and to yield the highest leverage in leadership.

Head AND Heart

This is an interesting paradox. Most leaders preference the head. They are analytical, strategic, and data-driven. These are essential qualities. But when they come at the expense of the heart – intuition, compassion, and, yes, love – an organization is deprived of a fundamental need. In my work, I have found that power and performance, in the best sense of those words, are found in the integration of the head and heart. As I look at my own leadership, it is the combination of an open heart and a keen intellect that I am committed to leading with.

Challenge AND Celebrate

This is the polarity that I have focused most on integrating. It is still a work in progress. It involves holding myself and others to incredibly high standards and, at the same time, seeing and appreciating myself and those I have the privilege of leading fully. To bring both of these qualities to bear in equal measure is critical for any leader.

Direct AND Empower

This paradox is perhaps the most misunderstood. We live in a time where empowering teams and individuals has been elevated to the neglect of its opposite – being decisive and directive.  People thrive on autonomy. But we also need direction. We need leaders who are able to discern when to make bold decisions and go it alone, even when it means being unpopular and misunderstood. And here is where the interdependence of polarities shows up. A leader who is leading with head and heart, who both challenges and celebrates his team, will know when to act decisively and will have the trust of his organization to do so.

Short-Term AND Long-Term

I have yet to meet a leader who doesn’t struggle with this tension. There is enormous pressure to deliver immediate results. For most companies, producing near-term results is an existential requirement. Yet, all great leaders have the ability to focus on the longer-term horizon. They possess a comfort with the ambiguous nature of this paradox and the courage to take risks that most don’t possess. This is why they lead. And if they integrate this polarity effectively, it is why they succeed.

Humility AND Confidence

Most leaders confront the fact that they really have no idea what they’re doing. Much of what they are being asked to do they may not have done before. And, even if they have, the context is sufficiently unique that it feels like they are breaking new ground. Great leaders embrace this feeling. They have the humility to admit they don’t know. This allows them to listen and seek out advice. At the same time, however, they project an authentic, embodied confidence born out of a maturity that recognizes no one ever really knows. I feel this each and every day. I endeavor to bring a deep humility to each and every situation along with an orientation to action driven by a deep inner knowing and confidence in myself.

We are all being asked to lead in some form or another. Leadership is a responsibility and a privilege. It is by embracing complexity and having the wisdom to leverage paradox that we will be able to fulfill this responsibility and lead with grace, ease, and effectiveness.

Back to TriumIQ

Let’s Talk

Contact Us

Trium IQ

It’s Your Weaknesses, Not Strengths, That Make You A Good Coach And Leader

One of the core adages in any coaching or advisory work is simply that “no one will…


A Time to Serve

To serve when you yourself are in need is the ultimate act of leadership. The new year…


VIDEO | UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta Reflects on Trium Coaching Sessions

UiPath CFO Ashim Gupta shares how Trium’s personalized coaching taught him to better connect with himself, connect with others, and meet challenges in a more mature and measured way.


The Reset Moment: How Downturns Create the Dynamics for Innovation and Transformation

We tend to think of economic cycles as peaks and troughs of good times and bad —…


Why CEO Storytelling Matters Today More Than Ever

What connects the animal scenes painted on cave walls in France 30,000 years ago, the 4000-year-old Epic…


Perspective and Choice

From the stillness of perspective, you get to choose the quality of your experience. It is the…


Three Ways to Embrace Team Appreciation

For leaders who want to make appreciation a year-round habit, this season of gratitude offers us a…


What Story Are You Telling?

Leaders who choose to see uncertainty as an opportunity will be leaders who preside over businesses that…


The Power of Proximity: Why “Up Close and Personal” is The Best Leadership Strategy In Complicated Times

The Power of Proximity is not about whether we’re in the office. It has nothing to do…


Five Tips to Foster a Culture of Appreciation

When’s the last time you openly celebrated the achievements of a team member? A week ago? A…


Be a Step-Down Leader: A Radical, New Paradigm for Leading in Anxious Times

Your primary job as a leader – in your family, community, or career – is to lower…


VIDEO | Lightspeed Venture Partners Partner, Arif Janmohamed: Trium’s Expertise Applied to Venture Capital Firms

Lightspeed Venture Partners Partner Arif Janmohamed shares how Trium applies its unique expertise to Venture Capital firms.


VIDEO | MX Interim CEO & President, Shane Evans: Coaching through a Leadership Transition

MX Interim Chief Executive Officer and President Shane Evans shares the impact of Trium’s coaching through his transition to CEO of the company.


VIDEO | Zoom COO, Aparna Bawa: Advice to Leaders Considering Engaging a Coach

Zoom Chief Operating Officer Aparna Bawa shares her advice for leaders considering engaging a coach to support their development.


If You Want to Survive a Downturn, Invest in Leadership

We are all starting to feel the effects of the downturn and I’ve seen a lot of…