Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.
Change, Transformation, and the Paradox
Although they may sound similar, change and transformation are different. In the context of business, change is a modification to an existing procedure or practice designed to increase efficiency or effectiveness. Transformation, on the other hand, is a change in mindset that is so significant that the modification doesn't simply alter an existing process, it creates an entirely new entity. One thing that frequently initiates transformation in business is a paradox.
In the context of business leadership, a paradox refers to a pair of characteristics that appear to be so different that they really couldn't exist together. They seem to be two things that offer an ''either/or'' choice. For example, you might think of your employees as either being collaborative or being competitive. This appears as a paradox because the use of ''or'' makes it sound as though we can have competition or collaboration, but not both - in other words, it makes it seem like these two concepts are paradoxically opposed.
Paradox management describes how a great manager can successfully balance these paradoxes. By using paradox management, a business can simultaneously encourage both competition and collaboration, rather than being able to have only one of the two.
Paradox Management Framework
To illustrate the common paradox of competition and collaboration, let's consider an organization like a local radio station. Because all the stations in its region are vying for the same advertising dollars, each station is in direct competition with the others. However, many of those local stations are members of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The NAB represents the interests of all member stations when lobbying lawmakers, advocating for the profession, and educating people about the role that terrestrial radio plays in an increasingly internet-driven word.
This means that the radio station's leadership doesn't have to choose between being competitive or being collaborative. Instead, they compete with other stations in one dimension, while knowing how to collaborate when a unified voice is important. That balance is the essence of paradox management.
When managing organizations, the best leaders learn how to allow control and empowerment to coexist. They are able to facilitate healthy competition and collaboration, and they can be innovative and structured at the same time.
Leaders often need do nothing more than take a mental walk through their offices to see paradoxes in action. One common paradox that's easy to see in almost any organization is the relationship between staffing and the budget. The staffing paradox goes something like, ''We need a workforce with top-notch talent, but we also need a workforce that will accept a wage that is less than market rate.'' You won't get top-notch talent for nothing, but you can manage the paradox well enough to get great talent at a reasonable cost.
Managing Paradoxes and Problems
Let's look at a few of the most common paradoxes that leaders need to manage. One of the most significant paradoxes for any manager is determining the optimum mix of oversight and innovation. When they manage this paradox appropriately, they exercise some degree of guidance and give some degree of autonomy to their employees, resulting in what could be described as the best of both worlds.
Managers can also face paradoxes associated with team interaction as they try to balance competition and collaboration. One of the best examples of an internal competition-collaboration paradox is a sales team. No matter what's being sold, sales people are often fiercely competitive with each other. However, at the end of the day, all the sales people are selling for the same company. They know how to help each other out when necessary, but a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.
Leaders can manage paradoxes in the same way. Friendly competition and self-reliance can be promoted among employees while you simultaneously encourage work teams to collaborate with each other toward a common goal.
Change refers to modifications to an existing process, but transformation is a change of mindset so significant that a new entity is created. One transformation-initiating thing that helps leaders within an organization is the paradox. In business, a paradox refers to principles that seem to oppose each other at first glance, but can actually be balanced to become compatible or complementary. A paradox is considered managed when the balance between the two opposing ideas is optimal.
Paradox management describes how a great manager can successfully balance these paradoxes. This framework helps leaders transition from seeing a paradox as ''It's either A or B'' to see it instead as a ''How should we mix A and B so that this works well?'' problem.
Leaders who are heavily biased toward one side of a paradox are less effective than managers who can manage the paradox. The best leaders use both sides of the paradox to formulate balanced solutions to difficult problems.
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