Value Driven Paradoxes


Despite technological advances and unparallel access to learning, no one ever says that leadership is getting easier; quite the opposite is true. There is certainly some mixed motivation from the leadership training industry. Telling people to relax and enjoy all the great advances in leadership doesn’t create the urgency to invest in the wide range of leadership development resources out there. The primary argument for the difficulty in leading well relates to our increasingly complex and fast moving world.  The good old days – which can mean anything from last year to centuries ago – portray leadership as more about keeping your ship afloat rather than navigating mine filled waters while trying to design and build a new navigation system.


Leadership competencies required for today’s challenges are not just extensive but often contradictory. Leaders find themselves needing to span the entire length of the spectrum on a number of different dimensions. Blair Sheppard, PwC Global Leader for Strategy and Leadership, captures this well in his article, “Six Paradoxes of Leadership.” The paradoxes and the key challenges they address are:

  • Globally-minded localist – How do you navigate a world that is increasingly both global and local?
  • High-integrity politician – How do you navigate the politics of getting things to happen and still retain your character?
  • Humble Hero – How do you have the confidence to act in an uncertain world and the humility to recognize when you are wrong?
  • Strategic executor – How do you execute effectively while also being highly strategic?
  • Tech-savvy humanist – How do you become increasingly tech savvy and remember that organizations are run by people, for people?
  • Traditioned innovator – How do you use the past to help direct your future success?


Sheppard says, “these paradoxes should be considered as a system; they impact each other and all need to be balanced simultaneously.” Looking at the list and realizing you will need to master all six paradoxes certainly does not diminish whatever leadership challenges you are facing at the moment. Some of the paradoxes require a higher level skill component such as technologist and strategic thinker that may require intentional learning or at least knowing you will need to make sure those skills are represented on your leadership team.


More importantly, all of the paradoxes require leaders to possess strong character values. The kind of character qualities that cannot be obtained simply with knowledge acquisition. Values shape a leader’s perspective to identify what really matters most in making every leadership decision. Some of Sheppard’s paradoxes are quite explicit in their value proposition. For example, the “high-integrity politician” paradox  highlights that leaders can use their position and charisma to get things done but must always examine their motives and realize the enormous personal cost when they lose their way. Similarly, the “humble hero” paradox,  emphasizes leaders can fall into the trap of believing that only by projecting certainty can they ensure their followers’ commitments. They fail to  realize that the insecurities causing them to project false confidence provide little room to maneuver and to learn when they make mistakes. 


We see the importance of values in Sheppard’s discussion of the need to balance technological advances with the human application. Leaders who fail to value the dignity and worth of each person they lead don’t understand their true stewardship role. That same desire to see the right values in different cultures and past traditions provides the needed perspective to apply the best ideas and communicate to people in ways that will help them deal with the changes of innovation and globalization. Finally, all these values influence the way a “strategic executor” thinks about the future and how best to allocate resources and ultimately how all stakeholders will experience the implementation.


An initial reaction to such a demanding list is to think one leader can’t be expected to be strong in all six areas. Additionally, the list reinforces the importance of a well rounded leadership team. Certainly, a solid leadership team increases the probability that the right skills and perspectives will guide decision making so that both ends of each paradox are considered. But Sheppard’s model, when examined through the lens of values, highlights the importance of the leader who helps others frame decisions around what matters most. This values-driven approach has always been key to effective leadership.