Last month I was fortunate to attend a leadership master class with Keith Grint. His presentation was about wicked problems and leadership. In this post I briefly explore one definition of leadership before introducing tame problems, critical problems, and wicked problems.
A Definition of Leadership
In Leadership: a Very Short Introduction* Keith Grint differentiates leadership from management. He reasons that the difference between leadership and management is context. That is, management is equivalent to déjà vu and leadership is equivalent to vu jàdé. Literally, this means seen this before and not seen this before.
In other words, managers tend to resolve previously experienced problems whereas leaders must innovate to solve novel or unruly problems. For the manager problems are complicated but rarely complex. There is little uncertainty. Problems are tame.
We also experience critical problems. That is, crises. Times when difficult or important decisions must be made. But there is certainty and we know what decisions to take. We command.
In contrast, leaders deal with wicked problems.
It is about the questions not the answers.
Wicked Problems and Leadership
Wicked problems are complex difficult challenges. What’s more, they are subjective and cannot be separated from their environment.
Wicked problems are hard to control and rarely eliminated altogether.
A wicked problem has no known solution because there is no clear relationship between cause and effect. Likewise, wicked problems are open-ended; multiple partial solutions are always needed. Solving critical problems needs leadership.
Forms of Authority
Thus we have three forms of authority and three different approaches to power
- Command―critical problems―physical
- Management―tame problems―rational
- Leadership―wicked problems―emotional
Coercive or physical power is needed in crises. For example, when a problem or situation threatens the survival of the organisation. Decisive action is needed and people respond to a call to action.
Managers use rational power to deal with problems of compliance. For instance, when a service isn’t performing. The manager’s role is to solve puzzles for which there are always answers.
Wicked problems are different because they cannot be solved by the individual. Solving wicked problems is about engaging people and working together in a common purpose.
Leadership is about follower-ship. Coercion is ineffective when dealing with wicked problems. Followers must want to help!
Have Your Say
Do you switch between command, management and leadership roles? Why do you change roles? Please join the discussion.
Creative Commons image courtesy Deborah Schultz.