I asked Elmore a few questions about his book, the paradoxes he struggles with, and his relationship with arguably one of the most influential leaders of our time, John C. Maxwell for our Book of the Month series.
Read, reflect, and share your thoughts about Elmore’s leadership paradoxes in the comments below! And don’t forget to take advantage of our Book of the Month savings on The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership.
Which paradoxes do you excel in? Which paradoxes do you struggle with or have to intentionally practice?
One of the paradoxes I am drawn to is that uncommon leaders are both confident and humble. Often, these two traits don’t go together. I know my team needs a confident leader; confidence makes our leadership believable. On the other hand, they also want to see humility in their leader; the awareness that we are human and flawed. Humility makes our confidence believable. My case study for this chapter was Bob Iger, former CEO of Disney. He modeled them both brilliantly. My assignment in light of this is: In meetings, I will speak as if I believe I am right, but I will listen as if I believe I am wrong.
Another paradox that is challenging for me is: uncommon leaders leverage both their vision and their blind spots. This is hard for most people to understand much less practice. Yet, I believe the best leaders do both. Clearly, we can’t lead without a vision. On the other hand, the best leaders and entrepreneurs also benefit from their blind spots. Call them “rookie smarts.” My case study for this paradox is Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. Her vision to create shapewear for women was amazing, but it was her blind spot regarding what protocol was to attract a distributor that enabled her brand to take off. Instead of trying to get noticed in a huge trade show, Sara went to the top and met with an executive at Nieman Marcus. Leaders refuse to let what they don’t know keep them from succeeding.
How much was this book influenced by the teachings of John Maxwell? What will readers find in your book that sets you apart from John or expands on his leadership insights?
John Maxwell was and is a master in social and emotional intelligence. I began working with him right out of college in 1983. This book builds on what I learned from John the last four decades. John taught me the “laws of leadership” through my career. In this post-pandemic day I believe in today’s world, uncommon leaders must embrace both:
- Timeless principles. (These guide our decisions each day.)
- Timely paradoxes. (These guide our interactions each day.)
I hope readers find these paradoxes to be breakthrough insights for them.
How has the concept of the 8 paradoxes helped the people you develop into leaders through your company, Growing Leaders?
Two of them come to mind. Uncommon leaders practice the paradox of visibility and invisibility. They know at the beginning of any venture, they must be visible and model the way for others. Example beats speeches any day. However, as others share ownership of the mission, paradoxical leaders become invisible at just the right times, so others can step up.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did this well. He marched, boycotted and demonstrated in the civil rights movement, but also got himself thrown into prison and was absent from meetings so young members like John Lewis and Ralph Abernathy would speak up. They would always defer to King if he was there. Hence, uncommon leaders train through their presence and through their absence.