11-20-13 Know Thyself OracleofDelphiWeb  


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Dave's Rigid Ways

Without warning, four college friends grabbed both of my arms, dragged me off the bar stool, and blurted for all Rigid Waysto hear, “Come on Dave, stop talking to that old guy… you’ve had too much to drink. Let’s go!”

I sighed, shook my head and thought, Here we go again. If I fight their vice grip, it looks like I’m drunk. If I let them drag me out, it looks like I’m drunk. Either way, heads they win or tails I lose.

My college friends and I still laugh about my rigid approach to life and our Saturday evening escapades. They understand that for many years, my strong tendency was to be so goal oriented that I over-focused on what I wanted – my way or no way. Whether it was spending too much time gleaning words of wisdom from old men in bars or refusing to hear honest feedback about my very expensive, failed product idea when I launched my business two decades ago (I lost a LOT of $), my friends have seen me suffer the negative consequences of inflexibility.

Of course, being clear about what one wants is important. Yet, it’s taken me many years and scars to realize that clarity minus flexibility equals rigidity. Commitment without feedback is blind.

How often do you mismanage the clarity and flexibility paradox? For example…

A few weeks ago, a leader at a large insurance company complained during our coaching call that her new software system was too structured. She said the VP of IT didn’t allow her team to provide enough input during the scoping of the project. The new system doesn’t have the flexibility to generate reports her way. Or consider a different leader, who recently lamented that her boss (another VP) wouldn’t let her try a new approach to address a customer’s concern because her idea “wasn’t in their policies and procedures.”

My experiences, the VPs’ actions, and the latest leadership research all demonstrate the importance of managing clarity and flexibility as a paradox. (1) To do so begins by distinguishing a problem to solve from a paradox to manage. A problem to solve is your traditional either/or decision – find a solution and implement it. A paradox is a both/and statement that seems contradictory, yet expresses a truth (usually in the form of two opposing issues or objectives). You know have a paradox to manage when you answer yes to the four RISC questions. Are the issues or objectives of the statement:

• Recurring? Do they keep coming back?
• Interrelated? Do they need each other over time?
• Simultaneous? Do they occur at the same time?
• Contradictory? Do they pull in opposite directions?

Identifying that you are dealing with a paradox (and not a problem to solve) is half the battle. Managing the tension between the issues is the other half.

I’ve been working on decreasing my rigid ways by managing the tension of being clear and flexible for 17 years. Last Saturday, without warning, a new friend and his wife grabbed my arms and startled me, “Dave, we want to thank you for being flexible regarding dinner plans. Our other friends would be upset that we didn’t have time to have a sit-down dinner between shows. Thanks for going with the flow”

“You’re welcome,” I smiled. “Being flexible is not always my first response, but I’m working on it.”

How about you? How well do you manage the clarity and flexibility paradox? Do you lean toward one issue more than the other? What tools do you use stretch, instead of snap? Let me know I’d love to hear from you.

Keep stretching when you’re pulled,

  1. Marianne W. Lewis, Constantine Andriopoulos, Wendy K. Smith: Paradoxical Leadership to Enable Strategic Agility, California Management Review, Vol. 56, No. 3 Spring 2014.

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