business man reading the newspaperThe truth about managing a business is that it’s subject to change on a dime. Whether it’s hardening competition, changing industry practices or unforeseen growth, the day to day of running an enterprise is as fickle as life itself. So why is it that most leaders continue doing the same thing throughout their careers: focusing on one opportunity at a time and choosing between interests despite better judgment? Well, for one, consistency is comforting; and if there’s anything in which natural leaders pride themselves, it is the ability to be in control at all times. However, that is not always the best choice.


In the Harvard Business Review’s May issue, business leaders and experts explain why it’s important to break away from traditional leadership and to embrace what the publication has dubbed “paradoxical leadership.” The argument behind the latter suggests that there are virtues to inconsistency, a certain adaptability that is necessary for growth and development, both personally for the company. Instead of imagining a world in which two situations would not be in opposition, paradoxical leadership calls for serious pragmatism and understanding that both truths can and do exist alongside the other, and sound strategy calls for addressing them together.


The most common of these scenarios is the pull between long and short term goals. A question for those in leadership is how to be innovative, to take risks while also being aware of current practices and the need for stability for team members. The choice is not by any means simple, and using an example of tech giant IBM, the paradox becomes especially salient.


In the latter part of the last century, with the growth of the internet, IBM was faced with the challenge of following and eventually leading this new technology, or focusing on the client server markets for which it had become known. Because the two ideas called for drastically different approaches, there was conflict of attention and a fight for the identity of the company, which management was called to address. In the end, however, the company was able to prioritize both and effectively reinvented itself while remaining relevant, receiving kudos and admiration from fellow industry leaders.


IBM is just one example of many. We’ve all been affected by new systems, changing orders, recession, and even a new workforce. The key to being successful despite seemingly incongruent situations is to “embrace dynamism” and change and to believe that resources are abundant. The article makes clear that the “either/or” of traditional leadership will make it much harder to navigate the bumpy road of business. Instead, a “both/and” mentality and confidence in navigating multiple things at once will bring about desired outcomes and make for a stronger, more prepared company.