top of page
  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

The Virtue of Paradoxical Leadership

History is littered with the names of once dominant companies that were so focused on their successful core businesses that they failed to embrace innovative new ideas until it was too late. But introducing change can be difficult in modern organisations, as it typically involves dealing with contradictory requirements that generate conflict.

To innovate, companies need to both think “out of the box” in their search for new ideas, while at the same time stay focused on outcomes and maintain efficiency in order to turn their ideas into reality. It is not uncommon for teams charged with coming up with innovative solutions to have to deal with “paradoxical” tensions that limit their ability to execute, such as tight deadlines and limited resources.

Yet new research by a group of researchers, including at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), shows that it is the ability to lead teams and individuals despite the very existence of contradictory tensions that could be the key to organisational success in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

“To achieve sustained success in today’s volatile environments, we recommend leaders think paradoxically and act integratively.” – Prof. Kenneth Law

Consider that America’s Eastman Kodak, one of the 20th century’s major photography brands, was known around the world for its ubiquitous Kodak film rolls. Yet it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2012 after short-sighted senior managers left it too late to enter digital age markets. Nokia, the Finnish telecommunications company that was once the world’s largest mobile phone handset maker, also failed to adapt to innovation, notably the threat to its keypad-based products from touchscreen smartphones following the 2007 launch of Apple’s iPhone, and later sold off its struggling handset business.

The devastating effects and continuing global economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – and the success of businesses that have quickly adapted to the “new normal” – have reinforced the importance of businesses adopting what this group of researchers have called “paradoxical leadership” practices to stay innovative and ensure their competitiveness and survival.



Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page