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The Wise Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

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In large part this misinterpretation of the motives and perspectives of the Committed Relativist relates to the emotion of grieving, which accompanies, for example, our “loss of innocence” when moving from Dualism to Multiplicity, for we must abandon our belief in one abiding truth. We also grieve when moving from Multiplicity to Relativism, for we can no longer embrace an undisciplined and cavalier attitude toward all purported “truths” in the world. Some ideas and “truths” are better than others, and expedient use of those truths that serve our own personal agendas are no longer acceptable. In the case of the move from Relativism to Committed Relativism, we grieve the loss of freedom and broad perspective that required no final judgments or commitments. We are kicked out of three different Edens, and feel devastated and betrayed when forced to leave each of these refuges.

Commitment within the Context of Faith and Doubt

Leaders make an existential leap of faith when they face the complex, uncertain and rapidly changing conditions of postmodern life. When leaders are willing to make decisions and commitments within the context of these postmodern conditions, with insufficient and contradictory data, without absolute guidelines, then they have found what Merleau-Ponty has described as a truth within situation.

Courage and Self-knowledge in the Midst of Relativism

The movement of a postmodern leader to commitment without absolute certainties—to a truth within a situation—requires courage and a willingness to encounter an unknown and unknowable world and do the best job possible with the information and perspectives that he does. At this point, the postmodern leader is actually beginning to embrace a Style Two model of leadership—one that focuses on courage. She becomes courageous about her learning! Once this first courageous commitment is made by a postmodern leader, a bit of increased self-knowledge often comes along. As postmodern leaders, we find a new level of appreciation for our parents, our bosses and even our national leaders when we first discover how difficult it is to make good choices in a relativistic world. With increased self-knowledge, we become somewhat more comfortable about making commitments and about adopting a style of operating that leaves options open for an appropriate period of time and that moves the decision-maker to commitment.

Even after the decision is made, the committed relativist in a leadership role remains open to alternative perspectives that could lead to a modification in this decision, and follows up the decision with feedback on the effects of this decision. Chris Argyris and Donald Schön propose that the most effective decision-makers are not those who avoid making mistakes, but rather are those who learn from their mistakes and do not continue to make the same mistakes. By assuming the role of learner, the committed relativist effectively confronts the ambiguity and often immobilizing anxiety associated with the postmodern, relativist view of reality.

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