Paradoxes of power and leadership
Miguel Pina e Cunha
Why do great companies and other organizations fail, sometimes abruptly? Why do admired leaders fall from their organizational pedestals? Why do young and promising managers derail? Why do organizations create and reinforce rules that manifestly damage both them and those that they employ, serve and sustain? Why do solutions aggravate organizational problems? Why is leadership so complicated? Why do some organizations resemble Lewis Carroll’s Wonderlands or Kafkaesque bureaucratic mazes? As will be discussed, all these processes are symptomatic of paradoxical organizational dysfunction.
There is a bright side to paradox, however. Some leaders are both demanding and caring, some organizations excel in both economy and service, while some exceptional leaders integrate opposing organizational demands with grace and elegance. We will explore the paradoxes of power and leadership not as a panacea for solving organizational problems but as a lens through which leadership and power are seen as an exercise in dynamic balance.
Rethinking Leadership in the Knowledge Economy
Today, executives are increasingly realizing that fundamental change cannot be managed from the top. This fundamental change is, however, necessary to successfully transform organizations from the industrial towards the knowledge economy. We can therefore see successful organizations in today’s world gaining competitive advantage by changing their entire leadership system. Less control and more learning, i.e. development of new knowledge and sharing it, lead to sustained growth.
The consequences this development will have for the theory and practice of leadership and management should not be underestimated. In a knowledge economy, we first need to change our world view and value system of management executives, who are until today looked upon as lonely heroes at the top, influencing and controlling the whole organization. Top-down instructions, even if they are actually implemented, foster an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and internal competition, which in turn reduces the willingness to work as a team and learn together. Directives coming from the top management are followed but do not help the employee retention or identification with the company. Only real commitment, shared values and authentic human interaction form the basis for the courage, the power of imagination, the patience, and the attentiveness which are all required in order to boost learning and effective leadership within our organizations.