Berger Leadership Blog

Aug 12, 2022

The importance of the ‘paradox mindset’

Ever get caught up in a game of tug-of-war with competing demands? As organizational leaders, this often brings about questions of today vs. tomorrow, productivity vs. costs, and more. Specifically, at NAFCU, we toggle with mission vs. markets; and the constant focus on our organizational foundation: to strengthen credit unions – leading to the why behind all that we do.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Marianne W. Lewis and Wendy K. Smith highlight that solving problems requires a mindset shift. For most leaders, solving these tough problems requires creating option A or B, and deciding between the two. However, Lewis and Smith want to clarify that great leaders adopt a different approach, the paradox mindset. This requires identifying underlying tensions of the issue and adopting both options through a deeper thinking lens. The process includes these three steps:

  1. Surfacing tensions

As leaders, we can seek out tensions before they fully approach the surface. In addition, we can identify opposing positions beforehand so that we are prepared for any type of issue that arises. This can be done by surrounding ourselves with others who have opposing viewpoints from our own, rather than only confiding in those who we know will agree with everything we say.

  1. Embracing tensions

Leaders can embrace tensions by tolerating the unknown and the discomfort that comes with it. By sharing this feeling with others, we will pool together knowledge on ways to move forward – and conclude with a plethora of solutions to the issue at hand.

  1. Processing tensions

Paradox mindsets require constant analysis and reanalysis of tensions that arise. By scanning what has both surfaced and been embraced, we will be able to conclude with the most well-versed and thought-out solution to the prominent tensions in our work environments.

In the end, as leaders, it will always be our duty to think critically when situations arise. By innately maintaining this ‘paradox mindset,’ we can help ourselves and those in our organizations recognize that properly managing underlying tensions can often lead to productive solutions for all involved.

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