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Addressing the Irony: Three Styles of Leadership

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The Challenges and Irony of Wise Leadership

This positive and perhaps overly optimistic portrait of the wise leader needs to be moderated—for the wise leader is not always so gracious and delighted with the transition of leadership to the next generation. The wise leader can at times be quite resistant to this transition and may be threatened by the acquisition of new knowledge and additional experiences by younger men and women. The threat and resistance are often couched in ambivalence—and produces Hard Irony. The wise leader teaches and encourages education–yet doesn’t want her protégé to become too smart or too experienced.

Even when the wise leader is fully open to the transition in leadership, there is often a hesitation on the part of other members of the organization to acknowledge, let alone actively support, this transition—yet another source of ambivalence and irony. They have relied for many years on the wisdom of the “old” leader and do not yet trust the competence of the new leader—he or she is not yet “tested” as to the practicality of their wisdom. Do we dare risk relying on this person’s experience, when we have the wise, old leader to guide us? Ironically, even when the knowledge and expertise of the old leader is now “out-of-date” – which is very common in our technologically-driving, postmodern world—there is still a yearning for that which is known and reliable.

The ironic challenge for this form of leadership is two-fold. There is first the challenge of succession planning. When a wise leader is playing a key role in an organization, then plans must begin very early regarding the preparation of other men and women to assume the wise leader’s role. This involves not just the mentoring of the new leader(s) by the old leader, but also the building of formal programs that prepare the organization for this transition in leadership.

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