“Once is a mistake, twice is stupidity.” My siblings and I heard that many times from our dear father. In his orderly, controlled life things were always very black and white. Once a pattern was learned we did not vary our response. Things were absolute and this served us well for many years as we matured into adulthood.
But as we grow up, our minds begin to understand paradox – that there can be more than one correct answer to a given problem or situation. Unfortunately, by then we have some pretty strong habits in place and our way of managing paradox is to seek the “more right” option and lock on to it. To best work with paradox, we have to suspend the mind’s pull to nail down an answer, and accept the more complex dynamism of, what The Zen Leader calls, from OR to AND.
The first step is to acknowledge the positive and negative aspects of the paradox. Laying it out on paper helps identify both the benefits of the paradox as well as the pitfalls of staying with each choice too long. A really useful tool for this is the Managing Paradox Mapping Guide (based on the work of Barry Johnson, Polarity Management).
The second step is to find the appropriate balance. Unmanaged paradox in business or organizational life tend to go to extremes, simply because the benefits of one side start gaining momentum, and those in power ignore the subtle signals that it’s time to shift. Setting thresholds for each is the key. Once you identify the minimal upside you’ll settle for along with the downside you’ll tolerate, you can fly your paradox like a plane between these two altitudes in a well-functioning cycle.
What are these forces trying to achieve together?
What might be possible if I could get the best out of both?
Answer these two questions and you’ll see the opportunity that good leadership can make possible. Happy flying!