Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Leading Paradoxically

Today I read a blog post by Scott H. Young that really resonated with me. In the post, “Paradoxical Virtues,” Young links to a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel, during which Thiel identified underrated talent not as any single trait, but in one’s ability to demonstrate seemingly paradoxical abilities. Here is a snippet from Young’s post:

I love this! I agree with the proposition that an ideal worker has the ability to strike a balance between seemingly opposing values and characteristics, calling upon each when and to a degree most appropriate. Finding individuals like this may be a challenge, though.

Therefore, I think that the strength of paradox also points to the way that teams can make up for individual shortcomings. For example, if some team members excel in providing vision, but have trouble with attention to detail, then compensation can be provided through other teammates who have these skills. In this way, a single individual doesn’t have to do and be it all. Through healthy teamwork, a unit may provide the same effect.

Unfortunately, leaders may sometimes find it convenient to instead build teams in their own image and thus may miss out providing strength through balance. Keeping the idea of paradoxical virtues in mind, leaders may both try to personally embody paradoxes and also build teams that value all members and their unique contributions toward the greater whole.

The starting point is in recognizing that there is value in more than one direction since, as Young points out, some people will fall into a trap of valuing only one end of the spectrum over another. I think this is particularly important for information professionals to keep in mind so that we may be as unbiased as possible and may best meet the needs of diverse populations.


Young, S. H. (2015, April). Paradoxical virtues. Retrieved from

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