The brain loves clarity - it craves black and white situations where the right and wrong answers are right in front of us. This starts from the time we were kids and our parents tried to teach us through experiences that defined the boundaries of what is right and what is wrong. While right and wrong clearly still exist, as does black and white, the world is becoming increasingly gray, which can be quite challenging to any mindset. I have seen this mindset challenge over and over again in our coaching sessions with executives.
Recently, I was with a friend and VP of HR from Unilever, Mike Clementi, when I asked him what he thought was the biggest challenge for today’s leaders. Without hesitation, he said, “Without a doubt, it is dealing with the paradoxes of today’s business world.” As he started explaining what he meant by this, I had to smile because I had been feeling the same way, but I hadn’t yet captured the exact description of the problem. As we continued to talk, several clear examples surfaced, which are becoming more and more common. These include:
_A leader sees new trends and opportunities which require investment, but they need to continue to invest against their core business. If they don't spend against their core business, it may fade, but they need to also be on trend for what is coming.
_A CEO wants to do the right thing for the shareholders and curb expenses, while, at the same time, he wants to invest in the many things that make his employees feel valued and create a highly supportive and energized culture.
_Even as parents, we want to give our kids the freedom to explore and learn, but we are concerned about monitoring their activities in this ever changing world.
The list of these paradoxes continue (we didn’t even touch the intracompany and world politics), and leading through such paradoxes requires the highest level of Sustainable High Performance. No longer is the role of a leader to set strategy and manage tradeoffs, rather it is to consciously live between the polarities. A leader who is operating in survival mode (what we describe as sinking or floating in our book, Sink, Float, or Swim) won’t be able to fight through the noise and distractions. They will lack the mental agility required to develop the best solution among a list of not-so-great options. They will become frustrated by the complexity and ambiguity that truly exists, and this frustration can quickly lead to withdrawing and missing the nuances of true leadership.
To succeed among these paradoxes, leaders need to develop and exhibit their Performance Mindset skills of empathy, listening, concise communication, openness, collaboration, purpose (driven by values and ethics), courage, emotional control, and vulnerability. They need to diligently prepare for their key interactions both internally and externally. They need to manage their energy and resilience by consistently investing in their Performance Nutrition, Performance Movement, and Performance Recovery strategies. Leading through these paradoxes requires leaders to be their best so they can bring their best to the many challenges they will face - this includes bringing their best home after work to those they love.
At Tignum, we've been able to work with many leaders. The best leaders bring calmness to chaos. They help others sift through complex issues to find the most important areas of focus. They provide, and clearly communicate, a picture of success. They stay highly aware of the many distractions while keeping everyone on track to tackle complex problems one step at a time. They give energy and optimism to everyone around them by extinguishing drama and staying focused on the small solutions in front of them. Great leaders stay grounded and authentic so they can help their teams realize that there is no perfection in a world of paradoxes, but this doesn’t have to mean that there is no hope, action, or solution.
Leading is hard, even in the best of times, and leading through a business world full of paradoxes can feel impossible. At the same time, paradoxes create many opportunities, but only if you develop your leadership and personal skills, and only with the catalyst of Sustainable High Performance. In fact, when you are proactively investing in your Performance Mindset, Performance Nutrition, Performance Movement, and Performance Recovery, you may just find that your Sustainable High Performance is one of the few things you can actually control.
As always, we would love to hear what you think.
By Scott Peltin
Founder/Chief Performance Officer