Business schools, management consultants and many leadership gurus suggest that management is the science of planning, organizing, and controlling resources. They sometimes describe management with formulas, models, tools and best practices. However, their magic recipes are generally viable in scenarios that are either Black or White – but not in our real world. Today’s successful leaders acknowledge that management is more of an art than a science. It is the art of navigating among the many layers between black and white – navigating among the ambiguous Shades of Grey.
Those Shades of Grey are most evident when managers are practicing strategic thinking under the pressure of the ever-diminishing time and high levels of uncertainty. Leaders – especially during crisis – are expected to give a sense of direction to their followers through real time decision making. Such decisions typically involve uncertainty and involve risk taking. They are a product of multiple factors and are never based on pure rational mechanisms of management best practices. In strategic thinking uncertainty is the name of the game, making the black blend with white in a nice but abstract touch of Grey.
Another factor that makes Grey the dominant color in boardrooms is the complexity of managing. This complexity stems from continuous change, volatile market conditions and fierce war for global talent. Further complexities are also caused by the diversity of the workforce across different cultures in scattered locations and spread over multiple generations. All these make management success dependent on effectively identifying and managing the gap between what works and what does not – what is black and what is white. Hence, it is essential to acknowledge the novelty of challenges that managers face these days. This novelty makes the previously learned lessons of management mostly obsolete and futile. What worked for our mentors may no longer be feasible. Those new challenges are hard to place on the Black-White scale because they usually come in Grey.
The pressure of diminishing time, increased uncertainty and the war for talent seem to be moving from bad to worse. These and other unfamiliar situations will continuously confront managers making the business world desperate for managers who comfortably embrace the darkness, mystery and seduction of the various Shades of Grey.