1. Introduction

Authors : Morgen Witzel, Richard Bolden and Nigel Linacre

This chapter introduces the main themes of this book – beginning with the concept of paradox and its relevance to the study and practice of leadership. Morgen Witzel, Richard Bolden and Nigel Linacre suggest that, in a quest for clarity and simplicity, leaders and their organisations all too often apply the wrong tools to the problems, and propose paradox as an alternative perspective. An overview of the structure of the book, including a brief summary of each chapter is then given, followed by a specific note for students of leadership. The chapter concludes with a number of questions for discussion and reflection.

  • The nature of paradox
  • The wrong tools for the wrong problems
  • Structure of the book
  • A note for students of leadership
Questions for reflection and discussion
  1. Consider the following paradox: a thing can be both right and wrong at the same time. Do you think this is true? Can you think of any examples in your own work, or life? Do you find that you are comfortable living with and working with paradoxes, or do you find them an irritant, something that you want to resolve or make go away?
  2. Think about leadership as you have experienced it and/or studied it. What kinds of paradoxes might leaders face? Make a list of as many as you can. If you are working in a group, suggest to your colleagues that they do the same, and then compare your lists and discuss.
  3. ‘The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.’ What does this mean to you?
  4. How do different cultures perceive leadership? Do Chinese and Indian people have different perceptions and expectations of leadership from Europeans or Americans? You may need to do some research on this; when you have completed your research tasks, list as many cultural differences in perceptions of leadership theory and practice as you can.
  5. And following on from this, from your experience or your studies, can you think of any situations or concepts which leaders from one culture might find paradoxical and uncomfortable, but leaders from another culture might regard as normal?

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Leadership Paradoxes (editorial) – Witzel, Bolden and Linacre, eO&P, Autumn 2013

Leading in Paradox: an introduction to polarities – Cheryl Doig, Slideshare, Oct 2013