Leaders of paradoxes: 4 people-management types

Human Resources

Concept of choice with crossroads spliting in two ways.jpeg

In the blog series ‘Leaders of paradoxes’ Prof. Dr. Jesse Segers explains us what the invisible tensions are to what leaders get exposed. In the first part, he illustrated and defined 4 important organizational paradoxes. In this second part, you will read about 4 people-management paradoxes.

1. Self-centered and other-centered

Less is known however about micro-level, or people management paradoxes. Zhang et el. (2015) recently defined 5 of them. Firstly, combining self-centered with other-centered.  Leaders are the center of influence and often need to be self-confident and have a desire for attention, while at the same time they are required to have concerns for others, show humility and share recognition and their leadership with followers.

Leaders who are able to overcome this tension have been termed “productive narcissists” (Maccoby, 2004). “In short, to be the paradox-savvy leader, an individual needs to exert his or her sense of self and confidence, but simultaneously recognize weaknesses and the value of others” (Walman & Bowen, 2016, p. 322).

2. Distance and closeness

Secondly, maintaining both distance and closeness. Leaders assign vertical structural relationships to define their distance from followers in status, rank, authority, and power (Antonakis & Atwater, 2002). However, adherence to follower demands inherently involves minimizing status distinctions, combined with a degree of close interpersonal relationships.

3. Uniformity and individuality 

Thirdly, treating subordinates uniformly while allowing individualization. “To value uniformity as a key principle for treating people based on their membership in a social group, leaders may assign subordinates to homogeneous positions with identical privileges, rights, and status without displaying favoritism (Lewis, 2000). However, such uniformity may depersonalize them and deprive them of unique individual identity (Brewer, 1991; Kreiner, Hollensbe, & Sheep, 2006).” (Zhang et al., 2015, p. 542).

4. Control and empowerment

Fourthly, integrating or harmonizing control and empowerment. More specifically, tensions can exist between behavioral control through work requirements while allowing flexibility, and between decision control while allowing autonomy. Paradoxically leaders make, for example, decisions about the big issues, but delegate lesser issues to subordinates or they have high task requirements, but allow subordinates to make mistakes. (Zhang, et al., 2015).

In his next contribution Jesse will explain how to avoid 3 traps in becoming a paradox-savvy leader.

Do you already want to know more about this subject? Be sure to read the first part of this series. For a more in-depth look at this theme, please contact katrien.nuyts@ams.ac.be.