Complex rapid change contexts frequently generate competing demands for organisations, which can create significant tension at all levels. A core competing demand derives from the need to develop highly adaptive and innovative responses to rapid change while simultaneously ensuring organisation stability.
Effectively managing these competing demands is critical at the senior leader level. Yet while there has been a growing awareness of the important role senior leaders play in managing these demands, it is not yet clear how this happens. This research therefore focused on identifying the unique dimensions and dynamics involved in leadership for senior leaders in innovation contexts at three levels of analysis: individual senior leaders, senior leadership teams and senior leadership duos.
The research explored leadership ambidexterity dimensions, and the findings demonstrated that paradoxical cognition and practices enable the comprehension and enactment of multiple nested paradoxical tensions in innovation contexts. This phenomenon was not only evident at the individual level, but it was identified that relational interactions in leadership units can also activate collective paradoxical cognition, even where there is only partial individual level paradoxical cognition. These interactions were labelled polar constructions in recognition that the nature of polarities is both embedded and constructed. The related practices include magnetic alignment (constructing and sharing an integrated metaphor or story built around a clear core purpose) and dynamic polar positioning (a pattern of reflexive and responsive equal and opposite actions and re-actions to hold competing demands in tension).
These findings provide valuable theoretical and practical contributions by identifying the nested dimensions of innovation leadership, and by providing deeper insights into how senior leaders at different levels experience and navigate competing demands in innovation contexts.