Leaders always face tough decisions, but some dilemmas can force them to choose between opposing alternatives, blurring the path forward and delaying or stalling their movement toward change. Larry Peters of Texas Christian University discovered that a rhythm can be traced in this kind of paradoxical force, a concept explored in his article “The Rhythm of Leading Change: Living With Paradox,” published in the latest issue of the Journal of Management Inquiry. To see other articles in the October issue, click here.
From the article:
In any complex change effort, interesting challenges can arise that create pressures that fight against leading. One such challenge is a paradox—alternatives that don’t follow from each other; where choosing one alternative acts to negate the other.
In a recent change consulting engagement, I started to notice these paradoxical circumstances. Each was different in terms of content, but all were alike in that they brought pressures on leaders that tended to stall or stop them from leading. What makes them interesting is that although the path forward isn’t always clear, these challenges always capture leaders’ attention, given that both alternatives may seem important to embrace, and they often affect their leadership.
I will describe two examples of these paradoxes based on an engagement at a company that was attempting to change its corporate culture. The business case for change had been made, and senior leaders across the organization accepted that the proposed changes were necessary, given the new business challenges the company faced. Leaders said they were “on board,” and several began leading in earnest to bring about this change. As the months went by, the change effort started to slow down, much like other change efforts that this leadership team had attempted to tackle. That’s when a team of internal and external consultants stepped up their support for these leaders.
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