Are you Working Within (or Contending Against) your Organization’s Style?

Are you Working Within (or Contending Against) your Organization’s Style?

Donald Rumsfeld’s recent book might help you answer that question – or perhaps the WSJ excerpts below will suffice and save you from reading his 815 page volume (Known and Unknown).

Ah, but there’s another book written almost 20 years ago that’s needed to complete the picture: Polarity Management, by Barry Johnson.  Subtitled “Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems,” its premise is that you can become a more effective leader by distinguishing problems you can solve from those you cannot; and additionally by increasing your ability to manage the polarities inherent in those unsolvable problems.

In Rumsfeld’s book he ‘quacks’ Condi Rice for delaying things, and doing a poor job of airing and debating substantive disagreements between the State and Defense departments … which he says was okay in the academic world that was her background. But in government, his approach (the ‘right’ answer) was that she should have served up for the president, in a crisp way, options that he could choose among.

“You are always better having a president look at each option, at the pros and cons, and make a decision among them, than trying to merge them” he says. (Rumsfeld, 2011)

Now, rather than analyzing whether Rice’s or Rumsfeld’s style was more appropriate in the White House, consider how your organization operates – can (should) you reconcile differences between IT and a business unit, or should you get to those crisply presented options to choose from?  Which style works better in your business, and what is your management / operating team more comfortable with?

Also consider whether some of your problems might be unsolvable and thus may lend themselves better to managing their differences (polarities) rather than forcing an either /or choice.

One of the key points in Polarity Management is that different views can both be ‘right’ (correct) while at the same time they are both ‘incomplete.’ If your staff members cannot articulate and present the other side of an issue, they may be blocked from seeing anything other than their view -and in that case, maybe they belong in politics!


Mike Kozlowski

Mike Kozlowski, CIO, Rust-Oleum

Mike has 30 years of experience in Information Technology, with a variety of strategic and tactical systems. These included providing custom handheld terminals to 2,000 field reps, implementing two CRM systems, and experiencing the thrills ... More   View all posts


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Mike Kozlowski


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