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Paradox - Navigating the Both/And in Leadership and Life

Today, we hear from Kathy Rohlman, a brilliant, brave, and badass human who has bravely shared her experience navigating the paradox of leadership.

At least once a month in 2024, we will hear from humans who help us see learning, leadership, and liberation in new and everyday ways, holding the precious truths and focusing our eyes to see.

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Heartfelt thanks to you, Kathy, for sharing your wise reflections with us.

Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage, rest, and beloved community along the journey.

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Kathy Rohlman

Webster’s Dictionary defines Paradox as: one (such as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases.

A number of years ago, I was challenged by my own binary thinking - and my strong attachment to it. I, like many, was quite comfortable with either/or thinking around right/wrong, love/hate, war/peace, etc. And not only comfortable, but I would fight you to the death if you were not on the same side as me! It was as though it was my job to convince you to get on the “right side” of any issue. For me, the idea that two opposing ideas could exist was confusing, weak, and inferior to logic. For the last 20+ years, I have been actively seeking ways to embrace the notion of paradox and the anxiety of uncertainty, which has changed my life for the better.

My early formation in the workforce saw leadership as a hierarchical ladder that left those of us on the bottom rungs, pining to get to the top. That pining meant a betrayal of self and others in order to get to a place of power. Fortunately, in my mid-30s, I was introduced to The Rule of Benedict, which included commentary from Joan Chittister. According to Sr. Joan, “The function of authority is not to control the other; it is to guide and to challenge and to enable the other.” St. Benedict and Sr. Joan Chittister began disrupting my view by saying leaders were not to be above a group; they were to be at the center - the movers of the group.

When I chose non-profit leadership as a career, I hoped that I would be the leader that I read so much about, not just from Benedict and Sr. Joan but many others…That I could operate from a place of center where I acknowledge my weaknesses and limitations AND push others to be better versions of themselves…To work within systems of policies and procedures AND to fight against systems of oppression…To have compassion and love for my team AND hold them accountable. My naivete and my ego put me in a place where I believed people would connect to my authentic leadership style, and together, we would change the world…I have learned, it’s just not that easy.

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We humans are very complicated! We want flowers but not rain. We want joy but not sorrow. We want success but not failure. We want growth but not struggle. The Buddhists say - no mud, no lotus. And we as humans have no desire to sit in mud.

Our liberation comes in leadership and in life when we can embrace the paradoxes, especially when others want to remain binary.

Here are the things that I attempt to practice to aid in embracing paradox:

  • Contemplative practices are important to me, including daily yoga, meditation, and prayer. I also find time in nature - no better grounding.
  • Remind myself that I am both a saint and a sinner AND to have grace with myself.
  • Identify the people with whom I can share everything (doubts, fears, joys, anger, ideas) and who will love me regardless. FYI: Not everyone can do this—it’s usually a very small group.
  • Slow down! Being reactionary will not fix any issue. Pausing, listening, and waiting is a better approach.
  • Spend time with people who think differently. Not everyone is on the same page, AND that’s okay.
  • Hold a growth mindset - it’s not weak to change my mind. 

Kathy Signature

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What is Kathy Reading, Watching, or Listening to?


  • Black Liturgies by Cole Arthur Riley
  • Cowboy Carter by Beyoncé (If this is the future of country music, I might become a fan)
  • Favorite Podcasts: Ten Percent Happier and OnBeing


Kathy Rohlman (she/her)
Post by Kathy Rohlman (she/her)
April 17, 2024
For nearly 25 years, Kathy Rohlman has had a full career in nonprofit management. The first 13 years of that career were spent with the performing arts, during which she served as a director of operations for two orchestras. While the arts were incredibly gratifying, Kathy longed for more significant meaning to her work and sought a career in the social service sector. At the age of 40, Kathy left the orchestra and enrolled back in school to finish her undergraduate degree. Kathy was part of the first Accelerated Leadership Program at Grand Valley State University and was a proud graduate in 2017. Kathy served two social service agencies focused on child welfare and workforce development. The experience in the arts and the social service sector provided the skills to guide her in her current role as the executive director of Camp Sunshine.

A core tenet of Kathy’s life is being in close proximity to those who are on the “margins” of life. Throughout her work, she has moved from a place of saviorism to a place of honoring another’s humanity in all facets of life. She is a constant learner and has found life’s greatest lessons come from those we least expect.

Kathy is a proud resident of Muskegon, where she lives with her husband, Mike. They have two children and one son-in-law (Hilary and Scott, Jacob). In her spare time, Kathy loves to experience live music, gaze at her new grandson, sing and dance, and hike with her beloved Golden Retriever, Oliver.