Click Clacks and The Paradox of Leadership

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Click the image for a great demonstration of original “Clackers” on a 1960’s TV show.

Remember Click-Clacks?  That great childhood toy from the early 1970’s that just disappeared?  If you’re too young to know what they are, imagine a pair of acrylic spheres, hung from a string and small paddle that a child spent hours banging back and forth against each other.  The “click-clack” sound was created by the kintetic energy that drew the two orbs against and away from each other when the person holding the toy moved their hand up and down. It was a hypnotic toy, made especially cool when the spheres were some crazy color.  Mine had glitter seemingly floating in the glass; I loved my Click-Clacks.

Unfortunately, the toys were banned when it was discovered they could explode from too much force, sending shards of hard plastic – err, shrapnel – into the hands and eyes of children. More inventive kids used their Click-Clacks like a bola, sending the weapon flying to ensnare an unsuspecting mammal – usually your younger sibling.  Needless to say, after countless complaints of bruises, broken bones, concussions and trips to the ER, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned Clack-Clacks in 1976 and they disappeared from store shelves.

But why all the talk about Click-Clacks? They remind me of the challenge leaders face: how to bring two opposing forces together and not create an explosion or injury. To me,

Click Clacks represent the perfect icon for the Paradox of Leadership.

Good leaders are very good a solving problems.  They assess the situation, gather the facts, make a decision and move on, right? But what happens when the same issue keeps coming up and won’t go away? The old problem-solving approach doesn’t work; and perhaps it isn’t a problem but a paradox.

A paradox is a situation that has at least two competing sides; two polar opposites , that can be both right and wrong at the same time.

Treating a paradox like a problem to be solved—and picking any one side of the paradox—only creates complication and frustration. To successfully manage a paradox, a good leader has to balance both sides. Paradoxes come in all forms:  individual vs. team, parent vs. child, profit versus mission, etc. To tackle a paradox, we have to understand both sides before we can make a good decision.

Good leaders will seek to keep the constant “click, click, click” of conflict at bay, working hard to:

  • Find the strength of each opposing side’s view
  • Seek to understand their own opposing view
  • Find harmony by trying to accommodate the needs of both sides

In his book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins offers up great advice on how leaders can manage when confronted with a paradox. He focuses first on the what, then worries about the who.  According to Collins, the way to manage the paradox isn’t to emabark on a new vision or deploy new strategies that chance the course of the organization, rather, it is about ensuring that he first has the,“right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Once that issue is solved, then the leader can get on about the business of driving the bus.

Just like the child appropriately using her Click Clack, a strong leader knows how to apply just the right pressure and motion to keep the two opposing forces coming together in a successful rhythm. When he stops leading, the energy leaves and the work stops; no focus equals no action. Reversely, micro-manage the situation or apply too much pressure, and the shrapnel will likely fly.

Know the strength of your team and understand the perspectives each member brings to the work you do. The way to an outrageously successful team is to bring firm balance and direction. And then, drive that bus!


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