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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Locus of Control

We perceive mysteries as taking place outside our sphere of control or influence. Psychologists call this an external locus of control and note that some people are inclined to view most issues as outside their control (that is, as mysteries). By contrast, puzzles are usually perceived as being under our control. Psychologists identify this perspective as an internal locus of control and note that some people are likely to view all issues as being under their control (that is, as puzzles).

Problems and dilemmas are usually complex mixtures of controllable and uncontrollable elements. The ironic condition is filled with many problems and dilemmas. Internal and external locus of control must exist side by side with one another—especially in nested dilemmas. Our task as leaders of ironic organizations and concerned citizens living in and actively engaged in ironic societies – as men and women living in Hard Irony—is to be discerning: what can we control and what can’t we control?

Even if we set aside the challenge of Hard Irony, we will be able to successfully address a problem or dilemma only by embracing a balanced perspective with regard to internal and external loci of control. One of the most helpful inquiries when confronting problems, dilemmas and (in particular) nested dilemmas is to identify what is and what is not under one’s control, and to do that from a perspective that challenges immediate perceptions. A problem or dilemma that is embedded in a rugged landscape is more likely to have components that are under a leader’s partial control than is a problem or dilemma that is embedded in a dancing landscape. Often, obscure or potential strengths can come to light when a leader realizes how much broader is her actual span of control when compared to her self-limiting awareness—in other words, when she expands the scope of her internal locus of control.

There are myriad challenges associated with the role of leader in identifying and addressing these four different kinds of issues. For the leader facing these issues, the Irony is Hard. First, leaders typically want their issues to be puzzles they can control or perhaps mysteries for which they have no responsibility. Puzzles can be solved and we know when we have solved them.

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