Wicked problems often crop up when organizations have to face constant change or unprecedented challenges. They occur in a social context; the greater the disagreement among stakeholders, the more wicked the problem. In fact, it is the social complexity of wicked problems, as much as their technical difficulties, that make them tough to manage.
—Camillus (2008, p. 100)
Leadership is about the ‘management of meaning,’ and that leaders emerge because of their role in framing experience in a way that provides the basis for action; that is, by mobilizing meaning, articulating and defining what has previously remained implicit or unsaid, by inventing images and meanings that provide a focus for new attention and by consolidating, confronting or changing prevailing wisdom.
—Smircich & Morgan (1982, p. 258)
In life as well as in business, problems often involve many parties, change context on a daily basis, and have more than one possible course of action. The literature calls these problems wicked problems. Consider the various parties, or stakeholders, who may be impacted by the decision of a metals manufacturer, whose waste products have been linked to health problems, to enter a new geographic region. There are positive impacts for job creation, but also potential negative impacts like pollution and public health. There are business, political, and social (health care) stakeholders and those impacted will have varying perspectives on whether the new plant is a positive or negative addition to the community. Politicians may look forward to the possible economic benefits, while healthcare professionals and activists might protest the manufacturer’s potential entry.
As a leader in such situations, your role will be one of shaping meaning and providing a framework in which those impacted can see the benefits of your proposed course of action. You will need to derive profits while ethically complying with local law and ensuring public health. Would you and your company be resilient enough to withstand the negative press that protests generate? As a leader, you will be required to think critically: you will encounter various stakeholder perspectives and be required to address competing needs. In such situations, how do you determine the best course of action? Is one stakeholder’s need more important than another?
To prepare for this discussion, review Pye’s (2005) account of the retail manufacturing’s Chief Executive‘s (CE’s) two ‘phases’ of leading his organization.
Then, in a 750–1000 word response, post your answers to the following questions
• Imagine the job of the CE in the above metals manufacturing concern. Identify the different stakeholders associated with the problem and note how their interests are interrelated. Create alternative viewpoints and develop some ideas to reconcile conflicting positions. Discuss what stakeholder may be least represented in possible outcomes and describe why.
With these thoughts in mind, in a 1000–1500 word response, post your answers to the following questions
• How could the resilience questioning put forth in the Margolis article have changed the outcome of the situation?
• Based on your examination of the Peak Learning web site and the parameters of its Adversity Quotient Profile, what adjustments would you have had to make in order to deal with this situation if you were the CE?
Note**** Please include the Reference where is required.
• Conklin, E. J. & Weil, W. (1997) ‘Wicked problems: naming the pain in organizations’. Available from http://www.leanconstruction.dk/_root/media/15.pdf
The authors discuss the concept of wicked problems, and the challenges they pose for leaders.
• Margolis, J. D. & Stoltz, P.G. (2010) ‘How to bounce back from adversity’, Harvard Business Review, 88 (½), pp.86–92. Available from: http://sfxhosted.exlibrisgroup.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/lpu?title=Harvard+Business+Review&volume=88&issue=1&spage=86&date=2010
The authors discuss one potential outcome of wicked problems—adversity—and identify how resilience can be developed using critical questions to reframe thinking and create new sense-making from the situation surrounding the wicked problems.
Pye, A. (2005). ‘Leadership and organizing: sensemaking in action’, Leadership, 1 (1), pp.31–49. Available from: http://lea.sagepub.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/content/1/1/31.full.pdf+html
The author discusses leadership from the perspective of a Social Constructivist and provides a case example of how a CEO was resilient in the face of a challenge and used sense-making to create a shared perspective on implementing change.