Contrary to the popular belief that one of the most important tasks of a manager is to solve problems, it is my view that managers must primarily address paradoxes. This is a basic prerequisite for achieving results in terms of organizational success.
Unlike a problem, paradoxical situations do not have a straightforward solution. Instead, they require constant management of various goals. These are in apparent contradiction to one another in the same situation, and therefore cannot be fully realized at the same time. For example, on the one hand, employee involvement is an important quality for a manager. On the other hand, in a situation where decisions must be made quickly, there may not be enough room for intensive participation.
Problem vs. Paradox (cf. B. Johnson, 2014)
It is important to understand that we can never create a definitive solution to paradoxes. That would mean that we choose one of the two sides. When we do this, we quickly realize that ‘the other side’ presents itself again and demands to be heard. Paradoxes must therefore be managed and renegotiated again and again. The good news is that you can’t be wrong, as a leader, for choosing one or the other- you can just work on managing the paradox better if necessary.
Managing Paradoxes Holistically:
Once leaders know that they are supposed to manage a paradox instead of solving a problem, they need the right tools to do so. For sustainable success, the paradox must be managed on three levels:
Level 1: Head = Rational Paradox Management
Level 2: Body = Emotional Paradox Management
Level 3: Hand = Operational Paradox Management
I will address these three levels in my following blog posts.