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Article 1: Introduction to the Paradox Theory of Leadership


Changes in the environment require adaptation of those who inhabit it, at least to survive or ideally to strive. Advances in telecommunication and information technology have connected individuals and organizations, suppliers, customers, managers, employees, and stakeholders in the most diverse sectors of society virtually, globally, and around the clock (Kayworth & Lendner, 2002). This has resulted in an unprecedented level of interconnectivity and complexity in our socio-political and economic environment.

In this context, organizational leaders need to adapt too. The leadership paradigm for firms in the knowledge-oriented economy is multi-level, processual, contextual, interactive, generating emergent outcomes like innovation, learning, adaptability for the firm (Schneider, 2002). The demands of the global economy require that leaders can adapt to complexity and cultural diversity, and master the complex process of value creation through people, interconnecting minds, stimulating, combining, reaping, and implementing ideas across disciplines and regions.

In knowledge – and service-oriented organizations, brainpower has replaced muscle power as the basic factor of productivity. The surge in interest in neuroscience research on behalf of management theorists and practitioners should therefore not come as a surprise.

As a branch of the life sciences, neuroscience deals with the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, or molecular biology of nerves and nervous tissue and especially with their relation to behavior and learning (Merrier-Webster Encyclopedia). For organizational leaders influencing and optimizing behavior and learning is of essence. Consequently, neuroscience has joined the debate on how to best manage and lead people in organizations, with the brain in mind (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2008; Waldman, Balthazard & Peterson, 2011a; 2011b). In a knowledge-based society, adaptation and learning are vital to keep ahead of competitors, to be smarter and to be more agile in creating and capturing value in markets through research and development, knowledge management, and continued innovation in products, services, brands, processes, and alliances.

In a series of seven articles we will introduce the building blocks of the Paradox Theory of Leadership.

This theory is built on insights generated by the theory of behavioral complexity of managerial leadership (Denison, Hooijberg, & Quinn 1995; Hooijberg, 1996; Hooijberg, Hunt & Dodge, 1997) and insights around paradoxical leadership (Smith & Tushman, 2005; Smith & Lewis, 2011; Smith, Binns & Tushman, 2010), focusing on the micro-level of analysis (the leader) (Zhang, Waldman, Han & Li, 2015). The theory is not pure theory though. I also provide empirical evidence generated in the NeuroTrainingLab, an innovative methodology for leadership development that has allowed to test the theory.

In the second article we will introduce the reader to the concept of integral leadership complexity.

The cognitive, affective, socio-cultural, and behavioral complexity of the leader is a prerequisite for the capacity to deal with paradoxes. In the third article we will introduce the reader to the concept of paradox. A deeper understanding of the concept of paradox is necessary before addressing paradoxical leadership behavior necessary for dealing the complexity of this world. In a fourth article we will delve into the neuroscience principles and processes that explain why dealing with paradoxes in itself is a challenge, and requires integral leadership complexity and resilience.

Dealing with paradoxes generates costs associated with switching between paradoxes in terms of time expenditure, usage of resources, stress and fatigue, which in turn explain why emotional regulation is of essence to guarantee leadership effectiveness. In the fifth and sixth articles we zoom in on these two processes: dual task processing (Meyer et al, 1997; 1998), and emotional regulation (Gross, 2007). In the seventh article we focus on the core variable of the paradox Theory of Leadership: the leadership meta-competencies underlying the capacity of dealing with seven paradoxical leadership behaviors proposed in the literature. In the last article we integrate all the building blocks introduced in past blogs into the overarching Paradox Theory of Leadership.

Poelmans, S.A.Y. & Sipahi-Dantas, A. (2017). THE PARADOX THEORY OF LEADERSHIP. A Neuroscience-based Theory of Integral Leadership Complexity and Competence.

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