Mark Kiefaber

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Decision Making - It's All About Paradoxes

Posted by Mark Kiefaber

Nov 8, 2012 1:59:00 PM

Have you worked in a company where the bosses couldn't make up their damn minds?  For awhile, the structure was decentralized so you and your fellow workers could stay close to the customers and be able to respond to their diverse needs.  Then, once that seemed to be going well, the company reorganized and centralized to be more systematic, consistent and control costs better.  Then, once that seemed to be going well, another re-organization was implemented to re-decentralize because all the cost saving and standardization had reduced individualized responsiveness and alienated customers?  I worked in companies where this happened, and I remember thinking, “Why don’t these geniuses up at the top justparadox make up their minds and stop this back and forth and stick with a decision? Why can’t they solve this once and for all?”  Have you ever asked the same thing?

Some years ago, I attended a seminar where the speaker, Barry Johnson, asked the group questions like these, and all of us grumbled and laughed about having lived through this back and forth two-step in organizations.  He then told us why this was such a common experience: that the problems our bosses had been trying to solve through re-organizations weren’t merely problems.  They were paradoxes, and a paradox can’t be solved once and for all. It has to be managed in a way that, over time, keeps two opposing forces in dynamic balance.  Work-life balance is a good example.  It doesn’t solve once and for all, but rather is something we return to again and again with sensitivity to when we’ve gone too far in one direction and need to come back the other way. It’s this balancing the tension of the opposing forces that makes a higher level goal possible, such as having a fulfilling career and personal life in the case of work-life balance, rather than having to chose one or the other.  Here are some other common paradoxes:

  • Flexibility and control
  • Short-term and long-term
  • Global and local
  • Individual rewards and group rewards 

All paradoxes have this in common: neither side, by itself, is entirely right, and a more complete “rightness” is possible through skillful balance.  Balance is not a static absence of decisions or action, but rather a dynamic shifting of emphasis in decisions and actions from one side to the other – and knowing when to shift.

Once I was introduced to Paradox Management, I have never looked at the world the same way.  I now see paradoxes everywhere, and have developed several new methods for diagnosing, mapping out, and managing paradoxes well.  I find this one of the most important areas to include in team sessions (team projects almost always involve important paradoxes) and in leadership programs.  For this is the understanding that helps leaders move beyond the “rightness” of their own opinions to optimizing the competing perspectives they must increasingly lead across. 

How can you start noticing and working with paradoxes?  If I were to boil down most of the paradoxes I’ve seen and worked with, they fall into these three basic categories:  learning, organizing, and belonging.

Learning – Paradoxes around learning show up when we’re challenged to build on what we know versus learn something new, for example, when we have to deliver the present and find the new future.  Learning requires using, critiquing, and often destroying past understandings and practices to construct new and more complicated frames of reference. That doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the past learning when it was acquired, it just may be out of date, but some people hold onto outdated knowledge because they don’t want to feel they were wrong in the past.

Organizing – Paradoxes around organizing relate to how much or how little of it we’ll tolerate, for example, flexibility versus control. Organizing denotes an ongoing process of balancing opposing forces that encourage commitment, trust, and creativity (“flexibility”) while maintaining efficiency, discipline, and order (“control”).
In my over thirty years of experience consulting with organizations, I almost always find that they value control over flexibility and then wonder why they struggle with innovation.

Belonging – Paradoxes around belonging, especially important in teams, relate to the emphasis on the individual versus the group.  To what extent to we honor individual diversity versus group cohesion?  How do we get the best from individual creativity and team efforts?  As individuals, we have conflicting drives to be independent on the one hand, and belong to supportive groups (family, friends, teams) on the other. Groups, however, have norms that members are supposed to conform to, which may impede out individual freedom.  Hence the paradox.

So even though there are countless numbers of paradoxes, if you can learn how to manage these three basic categories, you’ll find it much easier to handle their many variations.  A way to get started is outlined in the Paradox Mapping (make link) guide. You might try it out with a paradox facing you now.  Or better yet, pick a paradox from each of these 3 areas and map each of them.  Once you get a feel for the dynamism of paradox, even de-re-organizations will start to make a new kind of sense.




Topics: managing paradox, paradox, conflict, managing change, problem solving, polarity, dilema, resolving conflict, management, organization structure, leadership, work-life balance

There Should Be an “I” in Team

Posted by Mark Kiefaber

Mar 30, 2012 12:20:00 PM

In almost every team locker room anywhere, there is a banner that says, “There’s No “I” in Team.  The intent is clear.  Don’t be selfish, and make sure you suppress your individual ego for the good of the team.  But there is a possible downside to this sentiment.  Imagine a swimming relay team where one of the simmers gains 30 pounds and starts smoking, or less dramatically, just doesn’t stay in the best possible condition.  S/he is not likely going to help the team much.  S/he is not focusing very much on being the best possible “I”.

Think of all the teams that operate in organizations.  Sometimes they work in series, like a relay team, and sometimes they work in parallel like a rugby team.  In all cases, they need each of the team members to maintain a maximum level of both competence and energy.  In the organization sense, maximum competence means technically up to date, and a critical part of maximum energy means matching the right energy type to whatever task needs to be accomplished.  There are four basic energy types (Driver, Organizer, Collaborator, Visionary), and each of us has access to all four types.  We also, however, have preferences among types, so we don’t access them all the same.  Learning your preference hierarchy and how to strengthen your weaker preferences is key to being the best “I” for any team. An online assessment called the FEBI will help you learn about and strengthen your energy.



Topics: FEBI, Focus Energy Balance Indicator, energy patterns, leadership development, business coaching tool, teamwork, teams

4 Tips for Leadership Coaching

Posted by Mark Kiefaber

Mar 6, 2012 9:00:00 AM

Often times when I work with high level leaders I’m shocked by the lack of real leadership development they have experienced.  Usually highly intelligent and talented people, they have risen through the corporate ranks to a position of leadership on their technical skills alone.  Here is where leadership coaching comes into play, which can be the difference between a highly talented employee that meets goals and an integral leader that changes the game.  Below are a few tips on how to ensure your leadership coaching is developing great leaders. 

  • Self-Awareness:  Start by helping the leader become aware of how s/he shows up as a leader.  What is his/her personality?  Thinking style?  Communication style?  Behavior?  You can’t get to where you want to go without knowing where you are, so first help your clients start with this important self insight.  

  • Others-Awareness:  Provide a frame to see how these different styles/preferences show up in the people around them and perhaps more importantly, how to use this knowledge to meet people where they are.  Leaders can gain important insight when considering what the message looks like from the followers’ perspective.  Understanding follower personality preferences, behavioral styles, needs, etc. and approaching leadership from that perspective is one of the most powerful tools that a developed leader have.

  • Situational-Awareness:  A third important piece of the puzzle is what the needs of the situation are.  Sometime the situation means we just need to get things done, other times we need to slow down and think outside the box.  Help your client develop an awareness of what the situation calls for.

  • Putting It All Together:  In my work with leaders I have found that the most successful leaders, the ones that their people look up to as great leaders, are those that can effectively and continuously put these three elements together.  The most developed leaders are those that understand themselves from the inside out, meet their people where they are and incorporate the needs of the situation in their approach.

At Focus Leadership we have developed the perfect leadership coaching tool to guide this very process called the FEBI.  Click on the link below to download a free FEBI Coaching Guide.



Topics: FEBI, Focus Energy Balance Indicator, Coaching Tool, leadership coaching, leadership, leadership development, change management, whole leadership development, business coaching tool

Welcome to the FEBI Learning Lounge

The official FEBI blog

The FEBI Learning Lounge is the official blog of FEBI Assessment.  In this blog we discuss all things related to the energy patterns of FEBI, digging more into each of the patterns of personality and discussing various applications that can benefit from a pattern perspective.

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