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We work in the realm of possibility and potential, not labels and limitations. Rather than merely help people accept and adapt to their surroundings, Ascendi validates and activates their innate desire for peace, power and positive change. In a world of one-size-fits-all solutions, we create a forum for engaged discussion that provides clients with a solid launch pad for individual and organizational growth.

SOAR! Newsletter: July 2009

SOAR! Newsletter: July 2009
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Ascendi - Rise Above. Grow Beyond.
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Welcome to the SOAR! Newsletter

In this issue we continue our quest to provide you with valuable insights and resources to help you and your colleagues live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. Today, we explore and unravel the apparent contradictions that test our effectiveness as leaders.


In This Issue: Dealing Effectively with Paradox
As leaders, we encounter many different types of questions, problems, and challenges during a typical day. Often, we deal with them by doing what is commonly referred to as "gap analysis": we take notice of where we are or what we don't know, we visualize what we want to know or get to, and we map out a strategy to get us there. This approach, however, is useful only in situations that have simple, independent answers. For example, "Who is the current chairman of the Federal Reserve" or "Which states in the U.S. don't observe daylight savings time?" Each of these questions has a simple, independent response. By one estimate, however, these types of questions or challenges account for only 5% of those encountered by leaders during a typical workday. The other 95% have complex or interdependent solutions. For example: "What constitutes effective leadership?" or "How do we keep our employees engaged and happy?" We find the answers to these questions are not only complex but they also have components that depend on and even compete with each other. We often refer to these types of questions as dilemmas or paradoxes. Studies show that effective leaders display a marked level of ease and comfort when dealing with a paradox.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, describes the Stockdale paradox as it applies to business. Namely, "deal with the brutal facts of your current reality while maintaining absolute faith that you will prevail." Similarly, Collins describes what he calls Level 5 Leaders as possessing deep personal humility with unwavering will and resolve. These apparent contradictions are found everywhere. For example, consider the situations that require us to balance candor and diplomacy, logic and creativity, analysis vs. synthesis, or centralized vs. decentralized control.

A breakthrough insight regarding paradox was articulated by Barry Johnson in his book Polarity Management. He postulates that situations having complex, interdependent solutions are not problems to be solved but polarities to be managed. For example, consider Jim Collin's assertion that effective leadership combines personal humility with unwavering resolve. Each of these is a "pole" in Johnson's polarity model. Clearly, either trait by itself is insufficient to achieve a desired state called "Effective Leadership." Instead, we have two apparently opposing conditions that depend on each other and therefore must be jointly managed.

Each pole or element in a paradox has both advantages and disadvantages. Experience shows that focusing exclusively on only one pole may generate its advantages for a short while, but its disadvantages quickly take over and the "system" falls apart. However, the paradox-pair is sustainable and even strengthened when there is a natural flow or oscillation between each pole. The trick lies in maintaining the oscillations along the advantages of each pole, with minimal incursions into the disadvantages.

There are two important insights from the above discussion. First, realize that roughly 95% of the challenges that you encounter during a typical day will follow the above polarity dynamic. Therefore, simply getting from point "A" (missed opportunities, lack of progress, losing money) to point "B" (producing results, overcoming adversity, being profitable) is insufficient. If you take a step back, you may notice a polarity at play. If so, then the task becomes one of managing the polarity vs. trying to get to an end state. Have you seen an organization that uses a centralized approach for a few years and then switches to a decentralized approach for a few more years, before switching back? That may be an example of an oscillation where the leaders don't even realize that it's taking place!

The second insight lies in adopting a paradox-pair as a personal mantra for our development as leaders. For instance, how would your leadership style evolve if you actively practiced and managed ruthless compassion, respectful irreverence, or being a peaceful warrior? What is the perfect paradox-pair that will forward your development?

One of our goals at Ascendi is to help you become a more conscious and aware leader. We have proven methods for honing the art and science of leadership in yourself and your entire organization. Please contact us at any time. We would love to hear from you.
Warm Regards,
The Ascendi Team
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