Paradox of Opposing IdeasF. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still be able to function.”

The highest levels of leadership and happiness often come from living in the paradox between two rights. For example, we need to balance the need for teams and teamwork with personal accountability. The most profitable companies aren’t those who focus on profitability as their main purpose. Reengineering and radical change needs to be balanced with incremental improvement. The history of innovation shows many come about accidently but they can be fostered by “controlled chaos.” Organizational improvements often come from both top down and bottom up.

Highly effective leaders are comfortable living in the gray zone of ambiguity. A great deal of destruction in organizations, relationships, families, religions, and throughout societies comes from the intolerance and inflexibility of demagogues  who believe there are clear right and wrong answers to just about every situation. Their harsh and judgmental position usually comes from a base of fear and insecurity. Highly effective leaders can live with not having clear answers or letting situations unfold.

A key way to speed up execution and balance the pace is by sharing the workload and leveraging everyone’s strengths. Tomorrow we publish my January blogs in the February issue of The Leader Letter. One article in this issue is about shifting from driving and directing to coaching and developing. It’s illustrated by the story of a scout leader taking his scout pack on a hike through a very dense forest with a narrow path cut through the thick trees and tangled brush. When he came to a fallen tree blocking the path he struggled to lift it out of the way. “Are you using all your strength?” one of the young scouts asked. “Yes!” was the exhausted and exasperated response. “No. You are not using all your strength,” the scout replied. “You haven’t asked us to help you.”

This issue also highlights one of the vital paradoxes of our crazy-busy times. Slowing down in order to speed up. Or speeding up in order to slow down. High performing athletes live in the critical balance of peak effort and periods of rest. Zenger Folkman’s new research shows that top rated leaders producing the best results operate at the highest speed. Paradoxically, they’re also the least stressed and can create space to slow down and enjoy life more. And slowing down to focus on what’s most important helps to accelerate successful execution.