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The Wise Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

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Once the strengths and risks of the two sides are understood, the discussion is directed by the postmodern leader to what happens when we try to maximize the benefits of either side. It turns out that such unilateral bias to one side of a paradox or dilemma soon causes the downsides of that same force to manifest. Therefore, Barry Johnson warns that we not try to maximize but rather carefully optimize the degree to which we incline toward one side or the other and for how long. Optimizing means that we must find a reasonable and perhaps flexible set-point as we incline toward one side or another. Finding these acceptable optimum responses and redefining them again and again is the key to polarity management; and it requires a constant process of vigilance and adjustments. We want to find a dynamic, flexible balance, so that each side’s beneficial contribution can be enjoyed, without engendering serious negative consequences. It seems that as a safeguard against overshooting toward either side it would be prudent for postmodern leaders to build in alarm systems that warn that we may be trying to maximize one side, and are on the verge of triggering the negative reactions.

Conclusions

The sign of a leading mind today is that it can hold opposing views without flinching. The sign of a successful postmodern leader is that she can live with and manage the dilemmas she faces in real time—without questioning her identity at every turn in the road, whip-lashing her strategies, tearing and rebuilding her organization’s structures reactively, or scapegoating people within or outside her organization. Many years ago, Orson Welles was featured in a unique cartoon that showed two warring factions that were in great dispute over a minor issue that soon became major. One day, one of the members of one of the warring factions made an extraordinary (and very brave) statement. This leader said: “maybe they’re right!” Everyone and everything stopped—in amazement—on both sides of the battlefield. Members of each faction began articulating reasons why the other side was, at least in some respects, correct in their assessments, in their assignment of priorities, in their priorities. This fictitious world began to change and Welles, in his magnificent voice, ends by suggesting that just perhaps the people with whom we violently disagree in the “real” world might “. . . just be right!” Such is the case for the 21st Century leader, who must acknowledge, in a relativistic frame, that there is validity in the multiple perspectives, values and ideas being offered by the various stakeholders to whom this leader is accountable.

 

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