Home Concepts Organizational Theory Leadership in the Midst of Complexity, Uncertainty, Turbulence—and Contradiction

Leadership in the Midst of Complexity, Uncertainty, Turbulence—and Contradiction

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As we begin to address the challenges associated with dancing landscapes, we enter a domain in which problems and dilemmas seem to merge into mysteries. Mysteries operate at a different level than puzzles, problems or dilemmas. Mysteries are too complex to understand and are ultimately unknowable. A specific mystery is profound (desired outcomes are elusive but of great importance to many stakeholders) and awe-inspiring or just awe-ful. A mystery is inevitably viewed from many different perspectives and deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Mysteries have no boundaries, and all aspects are interrelated.

Mysteries are constituted of multiple and often nested ironies. They are beyond rational comprehension and resolution, and they are viewed with respect. Some mysteries relate to traumatic and devastating events: Why did I get out of the World Trade Center while my desk mate perished? Why did lightning strike our freighter but not the one next to it? Why did my child die before me? Mysteries also encompass many positive events and moments of reflection: How did I deserve all these talents? What is my destiny? Why have I been so blessed in my professional life? Why did I fall in love with this person? Why did this remarkable person fall in love with me? How did I ever raise such an exceptional child? How did I earn so much affection from these people at my retirement party?

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