Two Contradictory Leadership Traits and Learning to Embrace the Paradox

There are two seemingly contradictory traits I have seen in great leaders.

1. Great leaders need new challenges.

Leaders need challenges to grow and develop. A healthy sense of being overwhelmed can push leaders to expand their capacity, learn new skills, and discover new ideas. Without new challenges, leaders can grow apathetic.

At the same time…

2. Great leaders do not get bored with the basics.

There are basics in every role that a leader must never get bored with. Great leaders retain passion for the basics and continue to execute them with great discipline. When a leader stops caring about the basics, others will stop caring too. When a leader loses passion for the essentials, others will lose focus as well.

Some leaders view these two statements as mutually exclusive, as if one must choose between the two. And leaders can even pin the two statements against one another. Some leaders run feverishly chasing new or “bigger” things so they can avoid the basics they now find boring. In pride they say, “I don’t worry about those things anymore.” In doing so, they prove they are leading for themselves and not for others. Other leaders avoid a challenge or a new opportunity and hurt their own growth because “we only have capacity to handle these essentials.”

If a leader does not embrace both statements, either the leader’s development will be hindered or the leader’s effectiveness will be hurt. A leader must not lose passion for the basics while simultaneously accepting new challenges. Both are important. Being passionate about the basics is critical for effectiveness, and taking on new challenges is critical for development. When accepting a new challenge, a leader must reject the temptation to stop caring about the basics. And while caring about the essentials, a leader must be ready to receive new challenges. One must not trump the other.

Jim Collins calls for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” here. Great leaders are both up for a new challenge and passionate about the basics.