Maverick Life


Navigating paradox and uncertainty

Navigating paradox and uncertainty
Being able to seamlessly identify and interpret the prevalent paradox in any situation to take advantage of it and leverage it requires mindfulness and positive intentionality. Image: Robert Ruggiero / Unsplash

Once we are acquainted and have established a relationship (so to speak) with paradox, we can then embrace it and learn to dance with it. Ultimately, we should allow it to become an intrinsic part of our being.

Throughout history, contradiction and uncertain times have prevailed in all aspects of human lives. However, the 21st century has proved to truly be the ultimate age of paradox. 

Consequently, navigating this paradox has become an increasingly important competency and asset for leaders at all levels. Acquiring the skills of navigation starts with learning to recognise paradox and being aware of its presence and form; not acknowledging it will not deflect, nor deter, its impact, while recognising it means taking time to get to know it.

Once we are acquainted and have established a relationship (so to speak) with paradox, we can then embrace it and learn to dance with it. Ultimately, we should allow it to become an intrinsic part of our being. This enables us to become more authentic, decisive and dependable. As we move from a space of possible discomfort and fear to seeing it as a powerful resource that we can leverage, we start moving into a new league of leadership capability and gravitas.

There are many elements that have to line up for this to be optimised, such as being engaged, authentic and positively intentional.

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines intentionality as “the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent or to stand for things, properties and state of affairs”.

Taking that further, positive intentionality speaks to the pursuit of a greater purpose — something of consequence for the collective good. In fact, great leadership is distinguished by the pursuit of value for the collective, rather than simply “What’s in it for me?” — the latter sadly being abundant in both public and private sectors today. 

We have experienced through the exponential world, change continuing on an ever-increasing basis and at faster rates. The universe itself is accelerating; now, with more paradoxes in all facets of our lives, the journey to self-awareness and self-mastery is non-negotiable for both existing and aspirant leaders. The more self-aware we become, the more intentional we can become; the more we look beyond ourselves to a greater collective, the more impactful, resilient and agile we can become.

Genghis Khan

When we examine some of the greatest leaders in history, Genghis Khan prominently stands out for many reasons. He is deemed to be the second richest man of all time with an estimate of about $120-trillion in today’s money.

He created the largest empire of all time, and while he was ruthless in dealing with his enemies, his single point of focus was servitude to the Mongol people. He took what was an array of disparate tribes and merged them into a galvanised nation. He is still revered today and his vision to achieve this was unrelenting. 

Importantly, his willingness to live out his principles and prescriptions was evident; there was once a water shortage, and when one of his generals brought him water to drink, he poured it out on the floor as a representation of his willingness to stand side by side with his fighters. He was actively engaged on the battlefield, thereby setting an unwavering example of authentic leadership. Ironically, while he built the largest kingdom ever through his war efforts, it was also one of the most peaceful kingdoms in history.

He also did the unexpected by bringing into his army many generals from his enemies and he had the distinct and unique accolade that from 1206 until his death, not one of his generals betrayed him, as explained in Genghis Kahn: Life, death and resurrection by John Man.

His brutality was juxtaposed by his empathy, loyalty and interest in his people. He ran what was a true meritocracy whereby he appointed people on the basis of merit above obvious allegiances or historic relationships. He was a firm non-believer in the pursuit of nepotism. Jack Weatherford’s book Genghis Khan: The Making of the Modern World, speaks of how he used meritocracy and moderation to help his people coexist. Qualities such as honesty and honour were valued above all else. So, while he was pitiless with his adversaries, he was always willing to listen and learn new ideas. 

Too many modern-day leaders are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, commitments and difficult decisions, and frequently abdicate accountability. Such leaders most frequently lack self-awareness and the powerful competency attributes and attitudes that accompany it.

Having the courage to step in and out of different leadership styles and archetypes to suit the immediate situation or challenge takes courage resilience, agility and vision. Being able to seamlessly identify and interpret the prevalent paradox in any situation to take advantage of it and leverage it requires mindfulness and positive intentionality.

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The following are three examples of prevalent paradoxes that feature in our lives:

The pursuit of work-life balance is futile; our tendency as humans to want to plan, control and manage is counterproductive. Work-life balance becomes unattainable because of the continual change that occurs in our lives, which interrupts our work-life balance programmes. Ironically, if we simply seek priority on a daily basis, balance follows.

The pursuit of perfection is equally futile. First, it is not attainable; second, we often overrun our timelines for completion; third, we seldom ever celebrate our victories. If we simply pursue excellence instead by inculcating it in the essence of who we are, how we live and what we do, then we achieve what one might define as an acceptable level of perfection. 

The third example is that of company loyalty. For many years, leaders in businesses have espoused their desire to have a loyal workforce. In many instances, the loyalty syndrome creates a passive worker who holds the mindset: “If I work and do a reasonable job, the company will look after me”. When we extrapolate this, we find a workforce of people not taking ownership of their careers and self-development, and expecting the company to do that for them. As a result, ownership and accountability diminish. If each person — regardless of level — continually examines their mobility, marketability and relevance, they would quickly realise that in order to optimise these factors, they should be optimally effective and productive.

Not suggesting that people should be unprofessional, disloyal or mercenary; instead, they should pursue excellence, commitment and ongoing self-determination. Getting people to be loyal first to their careers would, ironically, result in the company having a far more engaged, productive and accomplished workforce.

There are so many other examples of important and prevalent paradoxes, some not so obvious. By becoming aware of them and inculcating the learning into our lives, we can become consequential leaders of self, teams, businesses and communities. DM/ML

Read Bryan Hattingh’s previous column here


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