Summary of The Unfinished Leader

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Most people believe you cannot “solve complex problems” unless you simplify them. But if you simplify a problem, you lose sight of the nuances that made it complex and difficult in the first place. This thought-provoking exploration of coping with puzzles and paradoxes answers complex questions about the difference between leaders and managers. While managers must deal with problems that have clear answers, leaders must guide organizations through knotty issues that have no apparent, clean-cut solutions. Consultants David L. Dotlich, Peter C. Cairo and Cade Cowan maintain that you can learn to manage paradoxes, but not in management school. You must learn to accept contradictions, struggle with them and gradually sort them out in real life. This comprehensive guide – which is enhanced by a nice layout, good graphics, workable exercises and high readability – details how firms can deepen their capacity to handle paradoxes. As Albert Einstein said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” getAbstract recommends this willing embrace of the complex to executives at all levels, academics who seek sophisticated solutions, and the leaders of NGOs and nonprofits.

About the Authors

David L. Dotlich is the chairman and CEO of Pivot, an executive development consultancy. Peter C. Cairo consults on executive team performance and board effectiveness. Cade Cowan consults and coaches senior executives on leadership development.



Is It a Puzzle or a Paradox?

Senior leaders face confounding paradoxes as their competitors and methods of competition increase and change daily. Managers must contend with rapid integration of markets, shifts in technology and new methods of collaboration. While they may often prefer simple answers, no simple approach to a paradox ever succeeds.

A paradox is a situation where contending pressures push against each other in ways that appear incongruous or even bizarre. Managers cannot ignore these pressures. They must “recognize the difference between problems with pat answers, what we classify as puzzles, and problems with no pat answers – and no promise of ever having them – which we classify as paradoxes.”

Managers who cannot distinguish between puzzles and paradoxes might try applying analytical kills and tools that work only on puzzles to paradoxes instead. Managers who excel at solving puzzles often fail when they deal with paradoxes. In fact, the strengths that help managers cope with puzzles may prove detrimental when they face paradoxes.

A paradox or a paradoxical situation requires leaders to recognize, accept and satisfy two or more conflicting...

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