7 Paradoxes Of Nurturing Leadership

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development
Seven Paradoxes of Nurturing Leadership

The thought was unexpected. My issues with the plant could be solved by simply tossing it into the compost bin. No longer would I have to deal with the spindly, frustrating thing that wilted in the sun, refused to grow in the shade, and sent out shoots that withered and died.

What held me back from pitching it was the memory of the one beautiful flower it bore the day I received it. I imagined a glorious mass of those blossoms spilling over the container, a sight that would make me smile every time I saw it.

Then, for some odd reason, I thought of David, a long ago boss.

David had lured me to move across six states to take a new job with a new company. It took me a couple of months to flourish, so it was a good thing he didn’t give up on me. As he told me later, “I knew you’d find your footing, you just needed a little time.”

David was a rare breed of leader – the nurturing kind. Not nurturing in the sense of cosseting, indulging, or over-protecting. Rather, David supported and encouraged us on one hand and pushed us relentlessly toward rigorous goals on the other.

He had that paradoxical both/and leadership thing nailed, especially for nurturing. He excelled in giving people the space to grow, experiment with new processes, gain new skills, and build capacity. He inspired us to better ourselves so we could better the company.

The main reason for leading is to help other people win.
~ Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

Leadership is about connecting. Connecting is about supporting. Supporting is about being brave enough as a leader to flex your nurturing muscle.

7 Paradoxical Things Nurturing Leaders Do

  1. Delegate & Guide – Effective leaders empower the right employees who have the right skills to do the right work at the right time. Then, those leaders check in periodically to assure all is well, answer questions, or remove barriers.
  2. Hold Accountable & Create Freedom – Having the freedom to create, take risks, and disrupt the status quo is a precious gift. But this gift does come with strings: responsibility and accountability. Leaders know they must deal with the consequences, intended and otherwise, and see things through. There’s no walking away when the going gets tough.
  3. Dream & Do – Work can’t always be like a spreadsheet containing perfect formula that always tally. Nurturing leaders make room, and time, for dreaming. They encourage creativity, imagination, fun, and sometimes a little silliness.
  4. Champion & Oppose – Sometimes the right answer is yes, other times it’s no. Nurturing leaders don’t back away from saying no.
  5. Celebrate Success & Allow Failure – Having permission to learn from failure is the one of greatest attributes a leader can bestow. The lessons of success can be superficial, not so failure. Failure brings alignment to the head and heart, heart and hands.
  6. Foster The Individual & Sustain The Collective – Some activities can be all about I. Some things must be about we. Leaders know when to flex between the team and the individual.
  7. Pull Back & Push Forward – Innovation is good; so is honoring stability. Nurturing, thoughtful leaders find the sweet spot in allowing just the right level of disruption that keeps things current, fresh, and relevant without creating chaos.
  8. Do those being served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous?
    ~ ~Robert Greenleaf
What stories of nurturing do you have to share?
Photo Credit: Fotolia Alexandr79

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
I’m a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. Love chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  10 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Jane – thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Your description of the “Both/And” nurturing leader reminds me that leadership, like most things in life, is not absolute, all-or-nothing anything, but a delicate blend of often oppositional forces.

I am envious of those who can apparently effortlessly move as needed between the type of opposites that you have so well described in your list of seven.

I have not experienced too many leaders who could cover the continuums you suggest, but the few that come to mind were usually more humble in their default behaviors than forceful. I am not sure of the significance of this, other than to observe that those who truly know how to be forceful, do not need to demonstrate that just to show others they can.

Very interesting and thought-provoking post – thanks:)


Jane Perdue  |  11 Jun 2015  |  Reply

Hi, John —

As always, so appreciate your thoughtful analysis and comments!

Your observation that leaders who can master “both/and” are humble is right in line with Jim Collins’ work about Level 5 leaders…that they’re a paradoxical mix of confidence and humility. The handful of individuals I’ve encountered across my career who walked the “both/and” talk had transcended ego. No small feat in today’s corporate America!

With a smile,


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