Organizations and the people working in them find themselves in environments that are increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Under these conditions, tensions that are ongoing, and seemingly overwhelming can be difficult to understand, much less easy to address. These tensions show up in all facets of organizational life including leadership (control vs. empowerment), teamwork (task vs. relationships),  strategy (competition vs. collaboration), structure (centralize vs. decentralize), and in the individual him or herself (work vs. home). These conflicting demands, when pursued jointly, are often referred to as paradoxes. Reframing these tensions beyond either/or problems in need of a single solution enables us to produce an outcome that is superior to tackling one demand at a time.

Helping individuals understand the impact of paradoxes on their effectiveness is a  competency the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) has been developing through our research and training. In this paper, we introduce and discuss what we believe are the two best ways to bring an awareness of paradoxes and a means to manage them into your organization.

“Why bother?” you ask. Paradoxes have been acknowledged as far back as 5,000 years ago (e.g., masculine and feminine in Hinduism and yin and yang in Taoism). Yet,  organizational leaders, scholars, and practitioners have not had a good way to bring this concept into practice—until now. Knowing how to manage paradox is a game changer. The research is clear:  Organizations, leaders, teams, and individuals that manage paradox are better performers than those who do not.

Contributing Author

Peter Ping Li is professor of Chinese business studies at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark, and also professor of international business at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool, China. Before joining CBS, he was professor of management at California State University. His primary research focus is on building geocentric (Westmeeting-East) theories from the cultural and historical perspectives. He has published over 50 articles in academic journals, 16 book chapters, and four books. He serves on the editorial boards of several major management journals. He is the founding editor-in-chief of Journal of Trust Research and also the senior editor of Asia Pacific Journal of Management and Management and Organization Review.

Download White Paper

Start typing and press Enter to search