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Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

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An organization that simply moves from one five-year plan to a second five-year plan is just as vulnerable to exhaustion and disillusionment as an organization that never realizes its dreams (because they have been set too high). We must appreciate the achievement of current goals and must linger for a moment to honor the old dream and vision before moving forward to a new sense of the future.

The old visionary leader faces Hard Irony at this point. At times, this dispensable visionary leader must embrace the Irony and step aside for the new vision—given that he or she has finished the task and awaits a period of rest and reflection back on what has been achieved. At other times, old visionary leaders can move beyond the Irony by becoming the new visionary leader. They find renewed energy and commitment while collaborating with others in the formulation of the new vision. As in the case of the old, wise leader and the warrior who has spent many years battling an ancient foe, the visionary leader and their followers must decide when “enough-is-enough” and when the mantle of leadership must be passed on to the next generation. This is perhaps the most important decision that an organizational leader can make – whether wise, courageous or visionary. When do I move on and how do I help the next generation succeed? A little wisdom and guidance offered by a coach or consultant might be helpful at this decision point.

Concluding Comments

It is not uncommon for us to live (in the back of our minds and hearts) in a world that may no longer exist—if it ever did. On the one hand, we know that this world doesn’t exist in the 21st Century. On the other hand, we envision a world that is filled with men and women of vision (as well as courage and wisdom). We don’t differ in this regard from men and women who lived at much earlier times.

The Greeks of antiquity, for instance, believed that their myths were the “realities” of a previous time in their history—when Gods acted upon and in the world and when exceptional men and women (called “heroes”) lived in the world. Then one day, according to many Greek writers (such as Homer and Sophocles) this Golden Age came to an end. The Greeks were left, as ordinary men and women, to live ordinary lives and reflect back through myths and ceremonies on this previous world of Gods and Heroes.

It is important—perhaps essential—that we recognize the fact that this same perspective exists in 21st Century life. We must acknowledge, like the Greeks before us that we yearn for a certain type of leadership. We find ourselves disappointed in our leaders. They are, after all, only human. They are neither Gods nor Heroes. At other times we are profoundly thankful for and appreciative of these leaders—and in particular for the moments when these leaders are truly heroic as they face and engage (with wisdom, courage and vision) the challenging and ironic world of 21st Century complexity, unpredictability, turbulence—and contradiction.
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References

Buber, M. (2000) I and Thou. New York: Scribner.

McCarthy, C. (2006) The Road. New York: Knopf.

Osgood, C. (1957) The Measurement of Meaning. Champaign, IL: The University of Illinois Press.

Polak, F. (1972) The image of the future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rorty, R. (1989) Contingency, Irony & Solidarity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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