The Paradox of Leadership

Jul 27

The reading this week in Organizational Dynamics focused on interpersonal dynamics and leadership. I find the text laborious and meandering as he attempts to distill the lessons of leadership from his professional experience and draw conclusions from past consulting projects. I am increasingly inclined to agree with Dilbert, that the only thing most leaders have in common is that they haven’t read all the books on leadership and that all the books on leadership are different. Going one step further, even if similar characteristics, environmental, personal or otherwise, could be found, there’s still the question of whether it’s a causal relationship. In other words, if I emulate all the qualities that are common among great leaders, will I be a great leader?

Leadership Failures

Among notable cases of leadership failures in recent news is the poor handling of sexual misconduct reports in the military. This affects the entire military culture, including a recently published article about poor handling of a sexual misconduct case at West Point. Each officer involved in the case wanted a different outcome, and almost none of them demonstrated objectivity and a willingness to use common sense.

Another case that increasingly shows poor leadership is the state of China’s environment. China’s continued pursuit of economic gain at the expense of environmental responsibility is translating into real social problems for its people and its government.

Domestically, we see cases every day, in congress, in the white house, in our communities and major corporations of leaders failing to accomplish the aims which they were chosen to solve. They’re falling short in execution, but that’s not the biggest gap.


Among all the virtues attributed to great leaders, vision is often overlooked. Even when vision is mentioned, it’s typically in the sense of having a mission statement or a long range goal.

The type of vision that changes the world is singular, focused, passionate and probably psychotic. In order to drive people to question and even abandon their individual mission statements in favor of yours, you have to present a gap in reality wide enough that they question their own perception of reality. Passion and conviction need to be at a fever pitch in order to displace disbelief. True vision acknowledges that irreconcilable divisions are more likely than not, and that those who can’t share the vision need to be left behind.

Leadership in a Book

There is no shortage of books, coaching programs, higher education degrees, etc. that claim to create leaders. Each has a philosophy about leadership that it attempts to teach. However, they seem to miss the point that emulation comes from books, while creation comes from within.

Leadership is ultimately a creative endeavor.

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