By Dave Ulrich
In recent years, leaders have been encouraged to have emotional intelligence and, more recently, learn agility (or grit, resilience, growth mindset, perseverance). In our research, navigating paradox has become the next wave in the evolution of leadership effectiveness.
Paradoxes exist when seemingly contradictory activities operate together. We experience paradoxes in daily life as captured by the popular phrases: tough love, do more with less, oil and vinegar, sweet and sour, work/ life balance, Catch 22, go slow to go fast, good and evil, and so forth. When these inherent contradictions work together, success follows. Instead of focusing on either/ or, paradoxes emphasize and/also thinking. Business paradoxes include short term and long term, top/down and bottom/up, inside and outside, domestic and global, individual and team, profitability and well-being, etc. Navigating paradox means learning to adapt rather than managing paradox which focuses on finding a solution.
WHY PARADOXES MATTER
The world is changing so quickly that what was right yesterday is not right today and will not be right tomorrow. In this world of rapid change, an organization’s success comes from its ability to adjust to change, which is often referred to as agility, flexibility, learning, transformation, revitalization, and so forth. Increasing organizational adaptability comes from navigating paradox. Navigating paradox accepts and heightens disagreements that enable organizations to change and evolve. Without the tensions that come from paradoxical thinking and debates, organizations perpetuate the status quo and do not respond to change. Leaders of these organizations need to become paradox navigators to help their organizations respond to the pace of change.
THE 7 SKILLS NEEDED TO NAVIGATE PARADOX
Paradox navigation is not an innate trait, but a learned set of behaviors that translate into skills. Leaders as Paradox
These paradox navigation skills can be acquired or improved through training and experience.
DAVE ULRICH is the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.