Recently an executive spoke of his last 18 months. He took over a troubled unit and determined he had to become a driver of order and dependability. This was not easy, but he was successful. The unit is now performing at a much more acceptable level.
Nevertheless, he sees a challenge. The dependable unit is not cohesive or adaptable. He recognizes the need to build trust and creativity, but he is not sure how to proceed. There is latent anger in the unit. While he has successfully transformed the unit in one direction, he must now maintain the gains while transforming the unit in the opposite direction. He told me he is not sure how to move forward.
All of us have strengths and blind spots. As we move up in the organization, we have to operate in ways that are not natural to us. If we succeed, we sometimes create new problems that require a complex transformation, which we do not know how to execute.
The temptation is to flee. If we take on the difficult challenge of deep learning—that is, doing what we do not know how to do—there is another possible outcome: we transform ourselves. We let go of many old assumptions and we see with fresh eyes. We become more empowered and empowering. We learn to integrate order and change, achievement and unity. We master the paradoxical tensions of organizational life.
As conventional people, we are all designed by genetics and culture to do certain things. As we do the things we are designed to do, we may succeed, but success tends to catapult us into new challenges. If we are committed to a higher purpose, we move forward into uncertainty, “building the bridge as we walk on it.” It is in this realm of deep change that managers become leaders and transcend the paradoxes of organizational life. It is in this process that we discover who they really are and what we are designed to become.
- When have you seen success catapult someone into a situation they did not know how to manage?
- In such a situation, what choices are available?
- What motivates someone to build the bridge as they walk on it?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?