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Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

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There is an important point to make regarding postmodern and contingent notions about leadership—and even more fundamentally the challenge in addressing the ironic conditions to be found in contemporary organizations and societies. No one leadership style is best. A great (or at least effective) leader is flexible in their style of leadership. This is a model of leadership that aligns with Richard Rorty’s (1989) notions of contingency. This contingent leader at times can lead through wisdom, and at other times can lead through either courage or vision. We find the heart of ironically contingent leadership in this capacity to shift styles of leadership in ways that are contingent with the needs and dynamics of the organization this person is serving. I turn now to a brief description of these three styles of leadership and the irony inherent in each style (the type of irony I first identified in the cases of Kristen and Joshua).

The Wise Leader

I begin with the leadership style that focuses on wisdom. A person is assigned leadership in a family, clan, group or organization because this person has more experience than anyone else or because this person possesses some fundamental and distinctive knowledge either because this competency is inherited or because it has been taught to the wise leader (usually as a result of this person’s inherited wealth or great promise as a young person). Alexander the Great is certainly one of the vivid personifications of this premodern mode of leadership. Alexander was “born into greatness.”

The Nature of Wise Leadership

Alexander’s father had been king of Macedonia and, even more importantly, Alexander displayed great potential as a young man—physically and intellectually. Perhaps most importantly, Alexander was the only pupil of one of the legendary teachers of all times: Aristotle. Thus, at a young age, Alexander was identified as a wise leader (we will also see that he is identified, as well, as a brave leader and as a leader of vision). While most wise leaders don’t arrive at their leadership position until accumulating many years of experience and expertise, Alexander was able to assume a leadership role, based on wisdom, at a very early age, in large part because of not only his inheritance (father was king) and his early display of competence, but also his credentials as a pupil of Aristotle.

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