Leadership and decision making in a complex system constitute a balance between the risks associated with practicing restraint and taking action. On the one hand, if the context requires it, one needs to consciously practice restraint and create space that allows the emergence of ideas, trust, opportunity, and even epiphany to loosen the tangled problem knot. There is a strong need for a certain slowness (Cilliers 2006) in taking time to allow emergence to unfold. On the other hand, one needs the courage to take action in a mist of uncertainty because, in a complex system, the consequences of our actions are never entirely predictable, and no matter how good our knowledge, there is never an objective “right” decision. Being conscious of, and comfortable with, this paradox is critical to successfully fostering and practicing adaptive leadership.
Navigating this paradox is part of the Balance within an organisation.
Decisiveness/willingness to act under tension
- Encourage courage. Cultivate an awareness of the natural inclination to avoid discomfort and have the courage to push beyond it and seize the “just do it” moment. (‣, ‣)
- Embrace provisionality: When a decision has to be made in the apparent absence of the necessary information, accept that it is likely to be imperfect and that it will be provisional at best.
- Do not be afraid of intelligent mistakes. Mistakes lead to learning. (Make many different bets, Be sceptical to your own opinions; Your knowledge are just guesses)
- Avoid paralysis from the natural anxiety response to uncertainty. Accept that there is no one right place to start or end. Take the next fit-for-context action that makes sense in the here and now.
- Act small and local. Avoid large system-wide interventions. One certainty in complexity is that any action can (and often does) lead to unintended consequences. (‣, ‣, Make shorter iterations in an unknown space, Take smaller steps in an unknown environment)
Restraint under tension
- Embrace liminality and avoid premature convergence — avoid being too quick to make judgments and choices (‣).
- Avoid overconfidence about being ready to take action in a data-driven “predict and act” mode.
- Allow the “seeds of action” that you’ve sown time to germinate. Resist impatience and the need for an instant response. (‣)
Restraint/action paradox is similar to ‣.