Learning to be a paradox-savvy leader

David Waldman, David E. Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


We outline the nature of paradox-savvy leader behavior by first considering an environmental context that increasingly demands attention to the paradoxes that are relevant to leaders. We then categorize such paradoxes as those that are inherent in leadership behavior per se, and those that are increasingly common in organizations. Based on this categorization, we outline four key paradoxes: (1) maintaining a strong sense of self while simultaneously maintaining humility, (2) maintaining control while simultaneously letting go of control, (3) stressing continuity while simultaneously stressing change, and (4) pursuing corporate social responsibility (CSR) for the strategic purpose of enhancing profits while simultaneously pursuing CSR for morally based purposes. In so doing, we consider the challenges in dealing with paradoxes and how such paradox-savvy leadership can be distinguished from, but still work in concert with, more classic approaches, such as situational/contingency leadership. We view our article as speaking to a broad range of management scholars, including those who are interested in leadership phenomena across organizational levels. In addition, beyond scholars, we view this article as being of concern to practitioners who have a continuing interest in new ideas for leaders and their development. Specifically, we suggest methods or strategies by which leaders can learn to effectively handle paradoxes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-327
Number of pages12
JournalAcademy of Management Perspectives
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Marketing


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