Polarity Management

Polarity Management: a strategy for transformational leadership


Western society is in the midst of transformation. Institutions will either adapt in response to the transformation of society, or they will become redundant. More than ever, organizations need transformational leadership for achieving their goals and objectives – their mission, and their purpose. One of the mistakes made when facing adaptive challenges is to perceive the challenges as problems that need to be fixed. Adaptive challenges are seldom problems to be fixed, but they are polarities that need to be engaged and managed as a strategy for transformation.

As an example, the attached slide show –  Managing Polarities as transformational leadership – illustrates a common polarity in mainline North American protestant denominations: the denominational/congregational authority polarity. When church polity grants denominational authority, giving decision-making power and resources to the wider church – whether a presbytery, diocese, or denominational office – certain advantages result. It also creates some disadvantages, when compared to its polarity, congregational authority. However, authority vested at the congregational level also creates both advantages and disadvantages.Neither model is “right” or “wrong” but here’s the thing: tension results when church members emphasize the positive aspects of one polarity and the negative aspects of the other. Depending on the perception of which polarity currently dominates, leaders will either crusade for change, or resist change in order to maintain the status quo.

The leadership challenge is to neither crusade nor resist, but to analyze the polarities, identify the positive aspects of each, and develop strategies for managing the tension created by using the strengths of each polarity to fulfill the mission of the church.