Paradox versus dilemma mindset: A theory of how women leaders navigate the tensions between agency and communion

Wei Zheng, Ronit Kark, Alyson L. Meister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


A wealth of literature documents that women leaders can face simultaneous and yet conflictual demands for both agency and communion, due to the incongruence of their leader role and gender role demands. However, we still know little about why some women cope with the tensions between agency and communion better than others and what implications are involved. Using a paradox perspective, we develop a theoretical model to explain how women leaders experience and respond to agency-communion tensions, which impacts their intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. Specifically, we propose that in response to experiencing tensions fueled by the dual demands for agency and communion, women leaders can adopt a paradox mindset that simultaneously embraces agency and communion, or a dilemma mindset that dichotomizes agency and communion. The paradox mindset helps women leaders build psychological resilience, identity coexistence, and leadership effectiveness, whereas those who adopt a dilemma mindset experience depleted resilience, identity separation, and lowered leadership effectiveness. Further, our model highlights individual, interpersonal, and organizational conditions that shape women's experience and stimulate a paradox mindset versus a dilemma mindset. We conclude by discussing theoretical and practical implications of our model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-596
Number of pages13
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Inc.


  • Dilemma
  • Effectiveness
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Leadership
  • Paradox
  • Resilience


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