The Leadership Paradox: Navigating that “Just Right” Place
In the mythological Cretan tale of Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus built wings for himself and his son to escape the stronghold of King Minos. It is said that Daedalus warned his son Icarus to “fly the middle course” between the sea spray and the sun’s heat. Icarus did not listen and flew up too high until the sun melted the wax of his wings. And for not listening to his father’s advice of heeding the middle course, he fell into the sea and drowned.
There is the need for fierce conversations and an empathetic ear, the freedom of empowerment and fences of boundaries, the philosophy of failing forward and character strength of making tough personnel decisions, and the list goes on.
As a leader, there are few disciplines more challenging than navigating the paradox of two opposites that may, in fact, both be true. There is the need for fierce conversations and an empathetic ear, the freedom of empowerment and fences of boundaries, the philosophy of failing forward and character strength of making tough personnel decisions, and the list goes on. With high awareness and self-management, leaders are much better equipped to navigate the complexities of the leadership paradox. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and leaders fall into such categories as too tough or too nice, too in the weeds or too out of touch, rigid and inflexible or a sail flapping in the wind; either-or leaders, if you will. And today, as we move further and further away from the era of command and control to the human side of business, the polarities become more pronounced and the paradox more illuminated.
Human business is one that puts people before profit, high touch before high tech, and great places to work before policies and procedures. Day-to-day, people lists are longer than to-do lists and values, not profit and loss reports, guide decision-making. Consideration is being given to the impact of our choices on the lives of others, and existing for a purpose beyond just making money is the new standard by which we are all being judged. While all of this sounds just right for the times, we do need to remember the tale of Icarus. So where from here?
Human business is one that puts people before profit, high touch before high tech, and great places to work before policies and procedures.
At Luck Companies, we have been practitioners of the human side of business since 1923 when our founder, Charles Luck Jr. built the company on the philosophy, “If I do right by my people, they will do right by me.” Today, that philosophy manifests itself in our business proposition of, “Doing good (making a difference in the lives of others) is the best path to doing well (exceptional personal and business performance).” We sincerely believe that everything starts with loving our associates to death, spending a disproportional amount of time giving them something to believe in, and obsessing everyday about them becoming everything they are capable of becoming. But make no mistake about it, it’s doing good “and” doing well; our associates always come first, but the machine still needs to run. We do not see it as an either-or proposition but an and-also requirement. Our philosophies align with Aristotle, who much like Daedalus before him, spoke to that “just right place” between the extremes, an Aristotelian view referred to as The Golden Mean. Aristotle describes the mean as an equilibrium a good person is in, not overreacting to situations. Equilibrium defined here as the right feelings at the right time, about the right things, toward the right people, for the right end, and in the right way.
But make no mistake about it, it’s doing good “and” doing well; our associates always come first, but the machine still needs to run. We do not see it as an either-or proposition but an and-also requirement.
For me personally, there are few things I would like to see more than the human side of business and human flourishing embedded in businesses all around the world. As leaders, let’s be mindful of how we navigate this era shift to avoid drowning in the sea. Mindful in a sense that we are leading to ensure the story of our generation ends in that just right place.
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