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Paradoxical Leadership

Organisations are full of contradictions and leaders are not immune.

by Kyla Jardine (Senior Communications Officer)

Professors Marianne Lewis and Paula Jarzabkowski delivered a dynamic session on paradoxes in leadership. Speaking to a packed room, they outlined their research into the paradoxes, or tensions, that exist within organisations and how to utilise them.

The breakfast event was hosted in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Insurers and Independent Women in Insurance Forum (iWIN).

Paradoxical leadership

Organisations are full of contradictions and leaders are not immune.

Managers can become caught up in these contradictions as ‘either/or;’ challenges: they have to invest in radically new products without cannibalising existing products; balance short and long-term goals; be locally connected and have global reach.

“Well-meaning, good people, become very defensive about their territories,” said Professor Jarzabkowski.

Professor Lewis commented, “We have seen leaders prioritising one goal and sacrificing the other, yet both are important, and effective managers need to balance both.”

Throughout the session, attendees were asked to consider challenges they faced in their own organisations, and how to apply paradoxical leadership within their businesses.

Insurance lives with paradox

Professor Jarzabkowski said, “The insurance sector lives with paradox. On one hand, it’s about the making a profit from risk, while on the other it fulfils a critical social need to protect people; their homes, their health, their financial well-being”

Professor Lewis added, “But understanding how to work best within these tensions; thinking and acting paradoxically can be learned.”


In this video, Professor Marianne Lewis talks about her research on organisational paradoxes.

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