Leadership Toolkit Must-Have: Polarity Management

New client throws down the gauntlet:  he is grappling with a ‘values’ mismatch with peers on his sr. leadership team in the very complicated world of big pharma. As I look down the barrel of 50 I have to say I want to stay as poorly acquainted with the various drugs advertised on the evening news as possible.  But let’s face it, when you have a real problem a good drug can solve, big pharma is like the cavalry.  But I digress. Back to client dilemma:

There are two camps: one thinks that the most important thing is to generate revenues and get as many products to market as possible, the other camp cares deeply about public health and protecting individuals who might react poorly to a product.

My client knows that he is right and frankly as a terrified consumer who am I to argue?  But if the company isn’t generating revenues, it won’t be able to afford the R & D not to mention the Quality Assurance processes to help people.  So ultimately it isn’t about right and wrong.  It is about managing a polarity.  A polarity is a way of describing a paradox – a problem that doesn’t have one ‘correct’ answer, but requires several answers that need to be used with discretion. A polarity is a situation that needs to be understood from all angles and managed over time.  It is not something that can be solved and tucked neatly away in a box.

The really smart guy who wrote the book on the subject is Barry Johnson and his book is (not surprisingly) called Polarity Management.  It is required reading for a coach, but if you are just looking for a quick introduction George Ambler has written an excellent article: How Practicing Leaders can Manage Paradox, Dilemma and Polarity.

The article lays out how leaders can use the fundamental idea of both/and thinking to be more effective with complex situations.  Worth a look.

One thought on “Leadership Toolkit Must-Have: Polarity Management

  1. I have seen and heard this “polarity” situation, but I still have to engage it. I’m on my way to read more on it. The article by George Ambler is a great perspective and perfect reading as a starter. The book “Polarity Management” should be an interesting in-depth treatise of the polarity situation. Thanks for sharing these.

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