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Mastering healthy tension between them, or surrounding to an ‘impossible alignment’ is a choice for leaders and managers. The worse case is to ignore them, to pretend that they do not exist, Even worse: ‘we need both’, as the default answer.

’Mastering starts with a modest acknowledgement of the existence of the tension. Here they are.

  1. We have management and leadership development focused on number of troupes, a bigger team or teams, a higher department, more people. But we need a management development based on how to influence without the hierarchical authority. Most of our (need for) influence will be directed towards people who do not report to us.
  1. We are taught how to manage resources that one can control: my budget, my piece of the strategic and business plan. A good manager, we are told, is a manager who uses his resources wisely, makes budget and delivers on his budget line. But the real life challenge is how to obtain and use resources we do not control, that do not belong to us. ‘Managing’ resources outside our direct control is the trick.
  1. We put a premium on analytical skills and the ability to ‘focus’. We desperate need synthesis skills and the ability to see the whole picture.
  1. We master the formal organization, and its formal and visible structures such as teams and committees. But most of the good stuff (innovation, spontaneous collaboration, crowd-creation, meaningful conversations) takes place in the informal, invisible organization
  1. We have learnt to ‘manage change’ in a top down way, shooting for a final ‘destination’ or desired state. We assume predictability and linearity. But the organization is not linear, with high unpredictability. Top-down management of change is not working anymore.
  1. To be effective, we are expected to create and sustain predictable, repeatable, reliable, and reproducible processes. But innovation requires ‘unpredictable answers, a ‘beta state’ and restless and unstable processes.
  1. Equally we are told to aim at ‘zero defects’ and ‘doing it right first time’. But innovation requires lots of prototyping, testing and trial and error. I am not talking about ‘products’ necessarily.
  1. Good managers are expected to be quite rational, predictable, reliable and ‘safe’. Reinvention and competitive advantage today requires a lot of unconventional thinking, irrational, unreasonable and contrarian managers that can deliver whilst at the same time disrupting the default position.
  2. We are told that efficient management has no slack, duplication, overlapping of responsibilities, ‘no waste’. Same people praise the 15% ‘free time’ in Google or 3M (or interpretations of them). We don’t tolerate buffer times, we have calendars saturated, but we expect people ‘to think’ and innovate. Innovation needs some ‘inefficient slack ‘in the system. Good management hates it.

Attack plan:

  1. Acknowledge the contradictions
  2. Imagine worlds in each extreme
  3. Imagine living in world A whilst progressing to World B. Progressing, moving, travelling, is a good thing
  4. Chose, then chose and chose again. Most likely, living in both worlds simultaneously (‘we need both’) is conceptually very comfortable but you will not advance an inch
  5. Chose the amount of pain you are prepared to take and live with, by moving to the uncomfortable side. Go to number 2, ‘imagine worlds’
  6. Repeat
  7. Move, don’t get stuck in the analysis
  8. If it’s messy and a bit uncomfortable, it’s OK
  9. If too scary, say this is all a lot of crap and stay where you are. Don’t think. Carry on.
  10. Good luck if in number 9

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