What's your answer to these questions?
- Should I focus on short-term results or long-term strategy?
- Should we stay true to our mission or should we look for new opportunities to compete in the marketplace?
- Should I take time to stay physically fit or should I spend more time at the office?
- Should I delegate a task to others or should I do it to make sure it’s done right?
- Should I tell my direct reports everything that is going on or should I not burden them with problems they can’t do anything about?
- Should I do what’s best for the team or should I help individuals get ahead?
- Should I bring other departments into our decision-making process or should I plow ahead and not use valuable time trying to achieve consensus?
- Should we centralize long-range planning or should we delegate that responsibility to the departments and different locations?
Your answer to each of these questions could be “yes”. Both options presented in each question may need to exist simultaneously. The statements are paradoxes that confront every leader in organizations today. Most leaders look for a solution that is impossible to achieve and, in so doing, fail to move the organization forward.
In a new book titled, Getting Unstuck (Download a free chapter.), Ralph Jacobson takes on paradoxes and explains what to do about them.
A paradox is a conflict between two perspectives that appear incapable of simultaneously existing at the same time…yet they must. A paradox has at least two apparent options, called polarities (for example, short and long term). The effective management of a paradox requires balancing the polarities over time…
Problems have solutions. Paradoxes do not. Paradoxes must be consistently balanced. In other words, there are many issues to which the familiar either/or formula will not work. In order to work through the above issues we have to change the formula to both/and.
As organizational leaders, we want solutions. We want to solve problems, put them behind us, and move on. But the reality is that many challenges cannot be resolved. We must continually shift between long-term and short-term, stability and change, work demands and non-work demands, delegation and control, transparency and secrecy, the team and the individual, consensus and autocratic decision-making, and centralization and decentralization.
What paradoxes do you face in your role and how do you handle them?