In leadership, and in life, we are constantly confronted with the pressures of paradox. According to Morgan (1998), in the book Images of Organizations, we are continually pushed-pulled in two different directions by bosses, by politics, by circumstances, by regulatory entities, by our values. Looks something like this:
Innovate <----------> Avoid Mistakes
Think long term <----------> Deliver results now
Cut costs <----------> Increase morale
Reduce staff <----------> Improve teamwork
Be flexible <----------> Respect the rules
Collaborate <----------> Compete
Decentralize <----------> Retain control
Specialize <----------> Be opportunistic
Low costs <----------> High quality
Each goal of those dichotomies seems worthy and noble. Yet, whenever we narrow our view of life/work/relationships/problems by thinking of them in isolated constructs (as shown above) we have, in effect, "simplified" the metrics. But, life/work/relationships/problems defy simplified metrics, they must be considered and navigated holistically. It requires us to do the dance of paradox, to find the "sweet spot" on each continuum, but taken in the context of the whole.
The "sweet spot" on each of those continua above is found by viewing them through the lenses of our values, our ethical anchors. Nobody can determine our values and ethical anchors for us - that comes from thoughtful soul-searching and self-reflection.
Wise mentors, great thinkers, exemplars can all help us find our moral grounding, but at the end of the day, it's a learning journey we must take for ourselves. And, that journey never ends.