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The Courageous Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

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The premodern leader builds her credibility in part on the foundation of courage—and typically looks to an external enemy as the focus for engaging this courage (and more generally as a generator of energy and motivation among those she is leading). The modern leader builds her credibility in part on the foundation of empowerment—and typically looks to her own team as the source of both difficulties and opportunities. The enemy and fundamental challenges in modern organizations reside inside the organization. What about the postmodern leader? What are the fundamental challenges facing this person. The enemy is now even more intimate. It resides within the heart of the postmodern leader. The enemy force is now constituted of the “demons” that reside inside each of us. How do we take the risk? Can we learn by doing and by making mistakes? Is courage ultimately about risking our own reputation on behalf of a worthy cause?

The postmodern enemy is manifest in many forms. It can take the form of fear about specific actions. It can show up as anger that may begin as frustration or disgust with another person or group, but ends up as frustration or disgust with oneself (often leading to depression). The postmodern enemy can also be manifest in a state of “freeze” (rather than either fight or flight). A leader is faced with the challenge of paradox and polarity. She sees both sides of an issue and doesn’t know which decision to make – which path to take. Any decision will inevitably have a negative impact on some aspect of the organization. And no decision (leading to inaction) is even worse. So what does a postmodern leader do?

Planning and the Internal Enemy

I propose that it is in the engagement of strategic planning processes that a postmodern leader moves from a state of freeze to a state of action and from fear and anxiety regarding the unknown to a reasoned analysis and management of risk. It is through strategic planning that one can effectively encounter one’s own internal enemies and can truly be brave in the midst of postmodern complexity, uncertainty and turbulence.

In this essay I will specifically identify five approaches to strategic planning that I believe helps a style two leader confront the postmodern challenges. The first three approaches relate directly to the three fundamental domains found in all organizations: (1) the domain of information, (2) the domain of intentions and (3) the domain of ideas. Each of these approaches begins with a different set of assumptions about the appropriate sequence for an organization to use in moving through these three domains. While each of these approaches holds some strengths none of them fully address the unique challenges associated with the postmodern condition. I will identify two other approaches that I believe more effectively meet the challenges of our postmodern condition. Each of these approaches involves repeated movement through these three domains.

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