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Journal of technology management & innovation

versión On-line ISSN 0718-2724

Journal of Technology Management & Innovation vol.11 no.3 Santiago  2016 


Tensions between Teams and Their Leaders

J. David Johnson *

*Department of Communication, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY E-mail:

Abstract: The intersection of teamwork and leadership results in tensions, dilemmas, and paradoxes for both individuals and for institutions such as simultaneously empowering individuals at the same time it frustrates them when our naive, cultural understanding of leadership centralizes power and values leaders who can impose their will and vision on others. Perhaps the fundamental paradox of teamwork and leadership is that the more leadership is focused on an individual the less likely a teams potential will be realized. Six specific domains where tensions arise are: at team boundaries; culture; who is in charge, rationality/cognition; diversity; and collaborations. Three approaches - clarifying different levels of analysis, temporal factors, and overarching concepts - to resolving tensions are discussed. New conceptions of leadership and the importance of the larger cultural frame within which they are embedded are needed for the management of technology and innovation.

Keywords: paradox; teams; leadership

Tensions between teams and their leaders

These findings illustrate what we found to be a clear paradox in the external leader role. ... managers were asking the leaders to delegate authority and in the same breath telling them to 'make' their teams comply (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003, pp. 451).

Teamwork has become central to the operation of the modern organization. People from diverse backgrounds culturally, professionally, and demographically must work together to develop the well-rounded decision making organizations need to survive in our contemporary economy. The ability to work in teams is one of the most commonly mentioned, mission critical skills that potential employers cite when they are looking for prospective employees. Managers spend almost 40 percent of their time working in teams and the vast majority of organizations over 100 members rely on teams for accomplishing their everyday work (Solansky, 2008).

A compelling feature of research on teamwork is that it stands at the intersection of so many important theoretical and policy issues such as the converging trends surrounding globalization and the 'flattening' of our world; the increasing complexity and blurring of boundaries represented by new organizational forms, the growing importance of diversity and inclusion, and the intersection of technology and of human performance.

Teamwork focuses us on the collective, the wisdom of crowds. A major advantage of group decision making is the possibility of corrective action, individuals acting alone may not consider all of the alternatives or the consequences of their actions (Gouran, 1982). However, particularly in the US, a focus on individual effort often mitigates against people working successfully in teams. While over 80% of American workers report collaborating with others at least occasionally to learn from them, to accomplish specific tasks, or because it is required, most do not like to do so (Business Week, 2008).

On the other hand, leadership embeds Western cultural values that give primacy to the individual. Leadership, and relatedly management, have more traditionally been the focus of organizational opera-tions. Leaders serve several critical functions: they provide direction often through a unique vision; they respond and adapt to evolving organizational environments through changing strategies; and they influence others to exert more effort than they might normally give. There is a broader cultural consensus embedded in great men (sic) approaches that views leadership in terms of a dominant individual who forces their will on others.

The intersection of teamwork and leadership results in tensions, tra-deoffs, oxymorons, conundrums, puzzles, dilemmas, and paradoxes for both individuals and for institutions such as the possibility that it both simultaneously empowers individuals at the same time it subjects them to frustration when our naive, cultural understanding of leadership centralizes power and values leaders who can impose their will and their vision on others. Perhaps the fundamental tension of teamwork and leadership is that the more leadership is focused on an individual the less likely it is that the full potential of a team will be realized.

Leadership research has uncovered dualisms, contrasts throughout its history: headship vs. leadership; transformational vs. transactional; consideration vs. initiating structure; formal vs. emergent leadership; individual vs. collective needs, and so on (Fairhurst, 2001). But interestingly, except for perhaps the tension between cohesiveness and creativity, this has been less characteristic of theory and research focusing on teams.

Systems theories, however, point to three fundamental contradictions in organizational life: balancing the need for stability with the need to change; subsystems do not necessarily agree about goals and structures for achieving change; and objective performance demands must recognize unique needs of people (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman, 2000).

Such tensions reveal contradictory and/or inconsistent qualities, statements that seem absurd but which may be true in fact. They stimulate us to deeper thought and a desire for resolution that needs to be approached deliberately as we will do in the following sections of this essay. Here we will explore six specific domains where tensions arise: at team boundaries; culture; who is in charge; rationality/cognition; diversity; and collaborations. Next we apply three approaches - clarifying different levels of analysis, temporal factors, and overarching concepts, -to resolving tensions in these domains. We conclude with a discussion of new conceptions of leadership and the importance of larger cultural frames within which they are embedded.


The impact of internal organizational groupings has always been of central interest to organizational behavior, dating back at least to the Hawthorne studies which clearly demonstrated that informal groups had profound effects on organizational performance (Kilduff & Tsai, 2003; Scott, 2000). Fundamentally teams allow organizations to accomplish tasks that are too big for one individual. They are the building blocks that make organizational size manageable. Classically groups are seen as influencing member satisfaction, performance (e.g., facilitation, risky shift), perception (e.g., Asch), and development of norms and attitudes.

Many authors (e.g., Poole & Real, 2003) have suggested that ideally teams increase: the many different types of expertise and points of view that are brought to the table; access to a wider range of resources outside of the team; share risks and outcomes; learning and potential growth among team members; consensus concerning a course of action; buy in and involvement; commitment to achievement of overall goal; and improve quality by having more than one set of eyes to look at a problem. On the other hand there are many potentially dysfunctional aspects of teams: concertative control; social loafing; groupthink; diffused responsibility; and waiting for someone else to take charge.

Teams are essentially groups on steroids. "Teams have a well-defined focus and a sense of purpose and unity that members of other groups do not share" (Poole & Real, 2003, pp. 370). Ideally team members share leadership roles, are accountable, encourage open-ended discussion, encourage listening, and measure their performance (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013). Teams are most appropriate when the organizational problem to be addressed is complex requiring a high degree of interdependence among team members (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004).

Higgs reviewed 52 authors definition of teams and identified seven common elements: common purpose; interdependence; clarity of roles and contribution; satisfaction from mutual working; mutual and individual accountability; realization of synergies; and empowerment (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004). Salas and his colleagues have suggested there is a 'big five' in teamwork: team leadership, mutual performance monitoring, backup behavior, adaptability, and team orientation (Salas, Sims, & Burke, 2005). Backup behavior refers to the willingness of other team members to provide assistance when needed. Many of these elements are included in the following definition: A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenbach & Smith, 2013, pp. 39, italics in original). We might add to this definition shared decision making with some understanding of each other's roles, contributions to team, and that members interact adaptively and dynamically in pursuit of team goals.


Most managerial discussion of leadership focus on headship. However, it is important to distinguish leadership from headship. Managers can be leaders, but they are not always leaders. They can influence people to get things done because of their positions. This headship is maintained through an organized system and it doesn't emerge from spontaneous recognition of group members. Headship situations are often characterized by external group goals set by a larger organization; as a result there is a lack of a sense of shared feelings and joint action. There can be clear status and other differences between the head and their followers which contribute to problems in communication. A managers influence depends on the organized system of which they are part (Gibb, 1969). On the other hand, leadership can be viewed as the influential increment, the ability to get others to do more (or different things) than they would normally do. For the moment, since the tensions are more pronounced, we will focus on managerial leadership associated with positions.


Tensions are a ubiquitous feature of social life. They are manifested in a number of particular forms which are often discussed interchangeably: contradictory logics, competing demands, clashes of ideas, contradictions, dialectics, irony, paradoxes, dilemmas, dualisms, and so on (Cooren, Matte, Benoit-Barne, & Brummans, 2013). These tensions reveal contradictory and/or inconsistent qualities, statements that seem absurd but which may be true in fact. They stimulate us to deeper thought and a desire for resolution that needs to be approached deliberately. Dilemmas often represent a choice between equally balanced alternatives, each with associated costs and benefits, predicaments that seemingly defy a satisfactory resolution, often presented in either/or terms (Westenholz, 1993). Paradoxes are statements contradictory to received opinion; seemingly contradictory statements that may nevertheless be true. "Paradox is the simultaneous existence of two inconsistent states, such as that between innovation and efficiency, collaboration and competition, or new and old" (Eisenhardt, 2000, pp. 703).

The existence of paradox has been a pervasive theme in the management literature (Eisenhardt, 2000). While paradoxes reveal seemingly contradictory elements, dilemmas often reveal contrasting forces that may represent opposite, orthogonal ends of an underlying con-tinuum. (e.g., participation, involvement, autonomy at one end, the need for direction at the other).They often entail either/or situations where one alternative must be selected (Cameron & Quinn, 1988), but they can also be paradoxical when options are contradictory and linked in such a way that any choice will only be a temporary one since tensions will resurface (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Here we will explore six specific domains where paradoxes arise: at team boundaries; culture; who is in charge, rationality/cognition; diversity, and collaborations (See Table 1).

Table 1: Dimensions of Tensions Dimension


Managing Boundaries

Whether one is considered to be in a team or not becomes a basis for individual identity. Identification with team becomes an important source of self-esteem for team members. In effect individuals know who they are (and are known to others) by what groups they belong to.

A major function of assigned leaders is to serve at the boundaries representing a team to larger organization while also insuring that the team's efforts fit with the larger organization. One of the classic sources of satisfaction with a supervisor is their ability to obtain needed resources from the organization (Pelz, 1952), but this often involves accepting some constraints on the operation of the team. Referring back to the lead quote of this article often management expects heads to impose a direction for the team. Imposing solutions while simultaneously involving the team to get buy-in undermines developing an optimal solution based on the participation of team members. It is difficult to maintain a balance between leadership and teamwork in many organizational contexts, especially if one is trying to develop a truly participatory climate.


One critical element of boundaries is that the larger organization of which teams are the constituent parts, often have a supraculture which raises the questions of which culture is operative - the teams or the larger organizations. Internal, idiosyncratic cultures become a basis for team identity - competing with other teams, buffering the larger organization (often us vs. them is a powerful motivator). Interestingly one critical source of success is a willingness to fail. Creative teams need be given space to fail, to be failure tolerant (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004).

Broadly speaking culture enriches our understanding of any information we gather while it restricts the range of answers we can seek (March, 1994). It also can improve efficiency by clearly delineating roles, relationships, and contexts within which individuals act, but it impedes the flow of information and the development of novel solutions to problems. This also leads to perhaps the ultimate paradox, the more people communicate, the more they converge on a common attitude, the less creative (different) they are. Processes of self-censor-ship, especially when one does not hold strong views, are often coupled with false consensus effects, the projection on to others of similar perspectives to one's own (Huckfeldt, Johnson, & Sprague, 2004).

One of the key functions of leadership is providing direction often through developing a vision. For entrepreneurs and founding fathers (sic) their personality and how they meet challenges may become embedded in the DNA of the organization (Schein, 1983).

Who is in charge?

In maintaining discipline, the leader will be less concerned with inflictingpunishment than with creating the conditions in which thegroup will discipline itself (Homans, 1950, pp. 435).

Fundamentally teams need some direction, especially to act in concert with the larger context of the organization. The leader needs to counterbalance the powerful internal forces that teams can use to encourage conformity. However, substituting concertative control for leadership without the checks and balances, safeguards inherent in formal supervisor-subordinate relationships can often be more damaging to the development of creative problem solving. A Community of Practice can act as knowledge police in the same impeding way that medieval guilds often operated in a value preserving manner (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

It may be much more difficult for a leader, especially an assigned one, to change than for a group to come to the conclusion that change is necessary. Emergent, as opposed to appointed leaders, are most likely to embody the norms of their groups and only can depart from them at some risk of losing their standing (Katz & Lazersfeld, 1955). But if the leader is really only a figurehead for group/team sentiment - who is leading then? Hollander's (1978) idiosycrancy credit notion suggests leaders are often selected and retained because they best represent group norms, but they often enhance their status by using their credits to get their groups to adopt different directions. So, while emergent leaders are often chosen because they best represent group norms, once the group has given them power they must use it or lose it (Katz & Lazersfeld, 1955). So you have the paradoxical statement that the initial conformity of the leader eventually results in change.


There is a commonly held belief that teamwork requires members to have similar cognitive structures. Meta-analysis have revealed that there is a cognitive foundation to teamwork with strong positive relationships to behavioral processes, motivational states, and team performance (DeChurch & Mesmer-Magnus, 2010). Shared cognitions, represented in shared mental models, result in more effective communication and are a critical driver of team performance (Salas & Cooke, 2008).

They promote receptivity to some messages, while making some others more difficult to understand. Often members operating in different frames need to come together to accomplish larger, collective purposes. These issues are critical to the operation of interprofessional teams. Decision making often rests on the cooperative judgments of organizational members immersed in different frameworks

Given traditional problems individuals have in developing certainty related to their roles, it is perhaps understandable that they have difficulties reintroducing uncertainty into their lives, partly from working directly in team settings with those who operate in different frames. This has been referred to as the "curse of knowledge" reflecting the difficulty people have in abandoning prior knowledge (Carlile, 2004). The bounded rationality they have developed with much prior effort. Often paradoxes result in even more intense use of existing strengths (Lewis, 2000), a failure to drop one's tools and more rigidity in organizational structures (Staw, Sandelands, & Dutton, 1981). When confronted with crisis situations, a failure to adopt appropriate, sometimes creative responses is related to an unwillingness to 'drop one's tools' in the face of external threats (Weick, 1996) or to expand one's role. They also can produce 'competency traps' where, because of initial success, teams quickly converge on limited courses of action and are unwilling to consider new approaches (Leonard, 2006; Rosenkopf & Nerkar, 2001; Taylor & Greve, 2006). Disastrous consequences often arise from situations where group ideas become accepted as truth, discouraging even the possibility of seeking discordant information. How long do we hold on to an answer we struggled so hard to attain?

But creating the illusion of certainty in one's vision is essential to leadership. Certainty is much desired, but the only certainty is that more certain we are the less likely we may be able to survive in today's world. The dark side of the quest for uncertainty reduction, is that once an answer is arrived at and a decision made, blockage from future information seeking may occur (Smithson, 1989).


The composition of the team provides the initial starting point for all the rest of its activities. Organizational demography can have pervasive impacts. First, demographic factors may affect recruitment practices and the degree to which an organization will defer to members once recruited. Second, it may affect modes of control and the types of leadership that can be exercised. High status professions create problems for teams, in many ways paralleling issues of assigned leadership. For example, physicians are central to communication networks since they must authorize medical treatments reinforcing their status advantage. A third issue related to demography is intercohort conflict. If a supervisor is a member of a different demographic grouping, as well as in a privileged position, this might further impede the development of relational qualities such as openness in his/her relationships with subordinates. Finally, the relative homogeneity of teams and their organizational context also has implications for their exposure to new ideas and level of conflict (Joshi, 2006).

People need to be part of something, but they also needs to stand out (Peters & Waterman, 1982), balancing independence (personal identity, self-esteem) against a need for belonging and affiliation (Sheard & Kakabadse, 2004). Teams are often the place where operationally the U.S. cultural concern for diversity and inclusion must be resolved. But beyond surface diversity, teams must also confront deeper levels of diversity based on professional training and functional specialization. Functional heterogeneity is a critical issue in the operation of interprofessional teams and Communities of Practice. Another critical issue for teams is whether or not their members come from different status levels in the organization. Internal team leaders who are of considerably different status than the other members of the team can dampen the willingness of team members to engage in open com-munication. In short, then, the composition of the team provides the initial conditions for team success.

While diversity is directly related to creativity, it also is inversely related to the implementation of new ideas (Agrell & Gustafson, 1996). It has almost become a cliché to observe that the heterogeneity of team members contributes greatly to the creativity of team outcomes, but can cause difficulties in the internalities of group performance (e.g., communication difficulties). It decreases cohesiveness and increases the potential for conflict making implementation more difficult (Gargiulo & Benassi, 2000). All this leads also to a fundamental paradox, the more people communicate, the more they converge on a common attitude, the less creative (different) the organization is, but a common ground is critical for communication and implementation.


The capacity of an organization to maintain a complex, highly interdependent pattern of activity is limited in part by its capacity to handle the communication required for coordination. The greater the efficiency of communication within the organization, the greater the tolerance for interdependence (March & Simon, 1958, pp. 162, italics in original).

As we proceed along the different types of interdependence and associated coordination modes the costs of communication and the burdens of decision making increase (Thompson, 1967). This implies that under norms of rationality and efficiency organizations will try to minimize the need for more complicated modes of coordination and interdependence such as teams.

Interestingly the balance needed between cohesion within groups associated with high levels of work interdependence and associated cooperation, and the structural holes that need to be bridged by managers through weak ties, often determine the relative adaptability of organizations to change

Interdependence is a necessary consequence of the division of labor in an organization (Victor & Blackburn, 1987). Members of teams may be in competition with each other for scarce resources such as promotions leading to the coinage coopetition which reflects that members in such situations must find a balance between competition and cooperation.

As we have seen a focus on interdependence has its roots in system theory approaches which classically placed paramount importance on interdependent relationships (Gulati, 2007). Generally it has been argued that increased needs for interdependence associated with differentiation will result in more lateral communication (Victor & Blackburn, 1987) best represented in detail operationally by network analysis since it can reveal how each individual job is embedded in a larger organizational structure (Brass, 1981). The failure to match network relationships (e.g., strong ties with reciprocal interdependence) to particular types of interdependence is likely to result in coordination failures (Gargiulo & Benassi, 2000).

Dialectics in relationships refer to the copresence of forces that are interdependent but negating. So, relationship bonding not only implies fusion and closeness, but also separation, distance and independence. Relationships are characterized by pulls as well as the need to differentiate each other (Fairhurst, 2001). Here is one area where leaders can make a critical difference; in effect, acting as a regulator of relationships much as the Security and Exchange Commission does in markets to insure a certain level of trust is maintained.

In the 1950's and 1960's there was a considerable body of work focused on the issue of how small group communication structures impacted performance and member satisfaction (Shaw, 1971), after a long fallow period, work on group networks within organizations has focused on the balance between internal and external information ties, needed to achieve optimal work performance (Katz, Lazer, Arrow, & Contractor, 2004). While traditionally communication has been recognized as the functional means by which groups accomplish goals, increasingly groups are seen as constituted by the communication their members have with each other. Communication structure, a fom of constraint, becomes an enabler. It is often the key factor in determining whether or not teams deliver consistently high performance. It effects the energy levels of team members, their en-gagement, and the extent to which they explore relevant sources of information (Pentland, 2013).

Resolving Tensions

In this section we will focus on approaches to managing tensions. Paradoxically, the first step to resolving them may be to accept the necessity for them: they are inevitable features of life (Cameron & Quinn, 1988). Indeed, specifying resolutions in and of itself may be paradoxical, since a focus on dilemmas involves a recognition that there really may not be any hope of resolving them. Instead of either-or thinking we need a'both-and' orientation (Fairhurst, 2001). The point may not be some grand synthesis, resolution, but mindful recognition of the tensions and contradictions that can then create possibilities for organizational transformation (Mumby, 2005) and, in some situations, where both elements can be simultaneously pursued (Cameron & Quinn, 1988).

In this section we focus on some approaches that have been made in the past to confronting the dilemmas in the categories discussed in the prior section specified by Poole and Van de Ven (1989): clarifying different levels of analysis, temporal factors, and overarching concepts.

Table 2: Resolving Tensions



Poole and Van de Ven (1989) in their classic article suggest clarifying differing levels of analysis can serve to resolve paradox. Levels of analysis has been one of the most popular topics in management theory over the last couple of decades. The issue of levels is intimately associated with that of boundaries and the concept of an in-group and out-group.

Fundamental to the discussion of in-group and out-group is whether teams form a different, and in the worst case, oppositional culture to that of the larger organization in which it is embedded. Cultivating an us vs. them attitude is a classic motivational tool of leaders and is one way assigned leaders can strengthen their identity with a team.

External leadership of self-managing teams is inherently paradoxical, but also suggests ways of synthesizing these dilemmas. An external leader, the manager to whom they report, is often the one who sets broad goals for a team (e.g., developing a marketing campaign; generating a new product, developing recommendations for coping with a particular organizational problem, meeting productivity targets). Research on effective external leaders suggest that they move back forth across boundaries, seek information, persuade in and out group members to support one another, and empower their teams (Druskat & Wheeler, 2003). They serve a critical linkage between the operational goals of a team and the larger goals and political environment of the organization in which they are embedded.

Often the impact of diversity is determined by the demographics of the larger organization. The functional specialization of team members is often critical to the operation of interprofessional teams in health-care settings with the status of physicians often critical to how team activities will be evaluated by the larger organization of which they are a part.

The logic or schema that team members apply to problems is often based on the imprint of the larger organization and/or their professions. Whether or not a team departs from these starting points is often based on the temporal factors we will discuss in the next section. It takes time for a unique way of approaching problems to develop.

Organizational demography can also play a critical role. So a team of young engineers charged with developing a solution to a technical problem in a hidebound conservative organization dominated by old hands may have difficulty selling their solution and reaching the implementation stage.

An inherent benefit of a network approach to collaboration is its capturing of multiple levels when a census approach is used (Johnson, 2009). Starting with the basic building block of dyadic relationships clique membership in dense relationships can be revealed. These cliques and their interconnections in turn can reveal the overall structure of an organization.

Temporal Factors

Poole and Van de Ven (1989) also recommended examining underlying temporal dynamics. The time orientation and temporal patterning of a team is often determined by outside forces. For teams one critical issue is whether they are temporary or permanent, the most basic form of temporal boundary. Ad hoc teams have difficulty developing an unique, idiosyncratic culture and an approach to problems that has its own rationality embodied in tacit knowledge. They also may truncate the natural processes needed for leadership emergence. Rotating leadership may be one way of resolving these issues. So, Davis and Eisenhardt (2011) found that in consortia, rotating leadership was ultimately more effective in producing innovation than either dominating or consensus leadership.

Time is also critical in the development of shared experiences that can overcome initially heterophilous groups by developing common grounds for approaching problems. These issues can impact the commitment level of team members.

Coopetition has been suggested as the sort of overarching concept we will discuss in the next section which encompasses the basic tension between team members need to cooperate at the same time they may be pursuing relatively scarce individual rewards such as promotion. This may reflect cyclical dynamics within a group with cooperation high at certain points, such as the presence of an external threat or deadline, followed by periods of internal competition.

Overarching Concepts

Yet another approach to resolving dilemmas is to coin new terms (Poole & Van de Ven, 1989), such as structural hole brokers, which may include both underlying dimensions of the paradox; with structural holes often representing underlying differentiation processes, while brokers represent one approach to integration, spanning different teams (Burt, 1992; Johnson, 2004). Boundary spanning is often a critical function of leaders and part of the assigned role of appointed leaders.

Developing a culture and/or changing one have been associated with different types of leadership with terms like transformational and charismatic intimately involved with the development of particular cultures. Vision and culture often go hand-in-hand and communicating a clear vision is often seen as a major function of leadership.

A focus on the functions served by leadership allows for a broader vision of so called 'leaderless' self-managing teams were many individuals can step to the fore to act in a distributed leadership fashion across the many functions successful teams need to focus on. Selfmanaging teams pose a number of puzzling paradoxes: "How does one lead those that are supposed to lead themselves? (Manz & Sims, 1984, pp. 409) and the 'unleader' -'one who leads others to lead themselves' (Manz & Sims, 1984, pp. 411)

Somewhat similarly, the concept of humble leadership has been advanced for someone who dominates through humility focusing on accomplishment rather than personal recognition. These leaders are self-confident enough to do good, but their efforts are never truly recognized nor should they be.

The term groupthink has come to symbolize the very human, group processes (e.g., cohesiveness, conformity) that conspire against 'good', rational decision making. Groupthink refers to the deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that result from group pressures (Janis, 1971). It is associated with high group cohesi-veness, insulation of the group, powerful leaders who use sanctions, and lack of decision-making norms.

Bounded rationality reflects the development of a common ground for understanding within which groups can make decisions reflecting their own internal logic (March, 1994).

Traditionally, dating back to small group communication network studies (Shaw, 1971), leadership has been associated with centrality in communication networks. While centralization describes the degree to which we are focused on particular nodes, density, on the other hand, has been proposed as an operationalization of shared leadership (Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007) and is commonly used as a measure of the internal network structure of teams (Henttonen, 2010). Density has been positively related to team performance and member satisfaction (Henttonen, 2010). It has also been described as the sort of bonding of a ... "trusted community where interactions are familiar and efficient" (Hoppe & Reinelt, 2010, pp. 601). So, on the one hand a highly centralized group, which implies low density, implies a strong leader, but also suggests a poorly functioning team.


One way of resolving tensions between leadership and teamwork is to approach conceptions of leadership in a different way. Emergent leadership, which is particularly important for self-managing teams, can be a result of many factors. Emergent leaders may be very capable of influencing, persuading other people to perform a certain tasks. They could have superior emotional intelligence and resulting social skills. They could be recognized for their superior performance. In Cattell's (1948) classic formulation regarding syntality, they could also best represent the group mind, personality, or the culture of a particular group. A critical factor relating to emergent leadership is that it stems, or flows, from the consent of team members. For our purposes perhaps a better approach to a definition of leadership is to reveal the more contemporary emphasis on coaching and advice. So a leader is a person who is able to mobilize team efforts on behalf of the accomplishment of mutual goals. There is also a recognition that a team can have multiple goals and different individuals may come to the fore as representing the people most likely to aid the group in their accomplishment. It has been suggested then that our focus should be on the process, functions of leadership rather than individual leaders (Morgerson, DeRue, & Karam, 2010).

One can mindfully accept paradox and use it constructively (Poole & Van de Ven, 1989). Indeed, our incomplete understanding can lead us to suggest resolutions that actually may be more troublesome than acceptance of the necessity of some dilemmas, which in turn leads us to a recognition that some tensions are inherently paradoxical. Increasingly dealing with dilemmas and paradoxes and their resulting tensions is a central concern of management (Luscher & Lewis, 2008) and the most effective leaders often exhibit paradoxical styles (Cameron & Quinn, 1988). It has been argued that 'masters of management' are those who can transcend their immediate work environment, viewing many different perspectives or sides of a dilemma simulta-neously, developing seemingly paradoxical approaches to problems (Westenholz, 1993). Perhaps the worst thing a manager can do is let one side of the dilemma dominate (McLaren, 1982). Excellent companies have one striking feature - their ability to manage ambiguity and paradox (Peters & Waterman, 1982).

So, for example, while managers may design an organization to maximize one key concern (e.g., customers, products, functional specialties), they must through their own actions try to ameliorate the effects of their designs on other key organizational values. It has become commonplace to suggest that since organizations have multiple, often conflicting goals, that awareness of them is salutary for organizational learning and performance (Rice, 2008). As in design, managers need to be conscious of implications of choices; if the system supports one value, management can act to offset its harmful effect on another. So long term sustainability requires attention to multiple, competing demands (Smith & Lewis, 2011).

Being forced to choose between unpleasant, disagreeable, unfavorable dilemmas is often very difficult, but the important thing is that we be conscious of them so that we are clear as to their costs and benefits, since there are often unintended consequences or tradeoffs in choosing one over the other. Sometimes, as in Eastern religion's concepts of yin/yang, it is perhaps better to accept the presence of a two-sided coin and relish the interplay between them (Gupta, Smith, & Shalley, 2006), rather than maximize one at the expense of the other. Do Asian cultures, who have an appreciation of duality and for collectivistic approaches have a clear strategic advantage when it comes to managing paradox? Confucianism and Daoism teach leaders to be self-deprecating and to lead without appearing to lead (Ou et al., 2014).

Often our larger, normative cultural understanding prevents us from comprehending the true balance needed and the costs and benefits of potential resolutions. The psychological focus of leadership studies in the US, which is deeply embedded in our culture, has led to a neglect of macro-issues (Fairhurst, 2001). Understanding these tensions provides another way of moving away from transformational charismatic views of leadership and a more critical view that of power and agency, compliance and conformity, resistance and dissent (Collinson & Tourish, 2015).

About author

J. DAVID JOHNSON (PH.D, Michigan State University, 1978) is currently a professor in the Department of Communication. He has over 18 years of experience in assigned leadership positions. He has also held academic positions at Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Arizona State University, and the State University of New York at Buffalo and was a media research analyst for the U. S. Information Agency. He has authored over 80 refereed publications and he has been recognized as one of the most prolific scholars in the field of communication. His publications have appeared in such journals as Academy of Management Review, Communication Yearbook, Human Communication Research, Communication Research, Communication Monographs, Journal of Business Communication, and Social Networks. He has also received grants from the National Cancer Institute, Michigan Department of Public Health, Michigan Department of Transportation, and National Association of Broadcasters. His major research interests focus on organizational communication structures, information seeking, and health communication. He has published eight books including: Information seeking: An organizational dilemma; Organizational communication structure; Innovation and Knowledge Management: The Cancer Information Service Research Consortium; Dosage; and Managing Knowledge Networks.



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Submitted: August 5th 2016 / Approved: September 9th 2016

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