This is a time like no other in history, and leaders are struggling. We are in unchartered territory, and what we’re hearing from leaders is that they are feeling a sense of isolation from the rest of their team, along with the weight of navigating a number of leadership paradoxes.

Through our own research and in working with thousands of leaders over three decades, and most recently our research during COVID-19, these are the key paradoxes we believe leaders have to navigate:

1. Double Down on Strategy AND Leadership – This is a moment when organizations need clarity on their strategy. Clarity on which markets they’ll serve, how they will manage cash, outsmart the competition, protect revenue streams, and at the same time, ensure that they have the right leaders in play doing the right things. In their 2016 Study, “Bersin High Impact Leadership Report 2016” Deloitte found that high-performance leadership development resulted in a 37% revenue jump, leaders are 5x more likely to anticipate change and 10x more likely to identify talent. How strong is your leadership bench? Click here to hear from Bill Peters, ex-President of Jabil, who recently joined our podcast to learn more about navigating this paradox.

2. Balance Tactical AND Strategic – Keep your eye on the ball today AND where it’s going in the future. In today’s world, you must have a balance of both. How will you execute flawlessly in your business? What are the short term decisions that must be made whether your current demand is too low or whether your employees are too fearful to work to even meet the demand? What adaptations to your business are immediately necessary? It’s the nature of a crisis. But how do you also balance that with a strategy?

3. Communicate Facts AND Inspire Faith in the Future – The Stockdale Paradox
Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda. The lesson in the Stockdale Paradox is that you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–-which you can never afford to lose–-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. As a leader, how are you communicating today’s facts but also inspiring faith in your people?

4. Push AND Pause – Many leaders right now are feeling the urge to take action and do everything they can to push their team, salvage their profits, and save even one customer. They have an overwhelming sense of needing to move forward. But sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. To transform, you have to pause. In fact, in the face of complexity, you often have to slow down to make the right move that propels you forward. The paradox in the crisis is where do you push; where do you pause. You have to do both.

5. Lead with an Execution Orientation AND Deep Empathy – In this time, we need leaders who have both an ability to execute and to be empathetic. But given the nature of this crisis, Empathy is your secret weapon. Empathy is the ability to walk in the shoes of others and to feel what they are experiencing from within their frame of reference. We find that the one leadership capability that is in short supply but high demand is Empathy.

6. Work on Yourself AND Create Space for your Leaders to Learn – one of the principles at our firm is ‘work on yourself before others’. In this moment, we still believe this to be true and at the same time, how do you allow the space for your own leadership teams to also work on this.

Some organizations will come out of this on top and meeting their goals and targets, a few will exceed their expectations, and only a small number will flourish and achieve the unexpected. The special few will have one thing in common – leaders who can navigate these six paradoxes and at the same time bring their people along on the journey.

To learn more about the work we do to help leaders navigate paradoxes, reach out to us at