Change Leadership & Polarity Management

Use a Polarity Lens to Lead Change

Newton’s law of motion that “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” is also as surely a law of leading change. As many leaders will tell you, the number one challenge that gives them sleepless nights is leading change, a necessary competency for organisational growth and prosperity.

During change, there are two realities present – the current state or what is stable and staying the same (Stability) and the desired state or what needs to change (the Change).  People view these two realities differently. There are those who see the change as threat to what they hold dear and there are those who see the change as the solution to challenges in the current state.  Usually, it is the push and pull of these two groups that tears the change down the middle.  Understanding this paradox and managing it as a polarity – an  interdependent pair –  is perhaps the single that separates change leadership legends from the rest.  Think Nelson Mandela and the South Africa move to independence. The successful change leader is one who; (1) has clarity of the greater purpose or outcome he/she wants from the change (2) is able to use a polarity lens to sees the whole rather than the part, and (3) uses the right model to capitalise on the inherent tensions between the two poles..

The significance of the polarity can be gauged by the degree to which people favouring one pole, e.g. Stability, reject (disown) or worse, discredits the validity of the Change Pole. Rejecting or refusing serious discussion of one pole in a polarity diminishes the organisation’s flexibility and seriously cripples its ability to realize its greater potential. Such an organisation/individual/group “does not see how it creates its own difficulties” by blocking parts of itself from being expressed.

Leading Change – A Strategic Planning Implementation Example

Polarities (a.k.a. dilemmas, chronic tensions, paradoxes) are interdependent pairs that support a common purpose and one another. All Change is a polarity.  Recognising this and having the ability to manage the tension and leveraging the energy between the two poles is the single thing that separates exemplary leaders from others. This ability is what is called Polarity Management.

A good example of change that most organisations experience is in developing and implementing strategic plans and/or balanced scorecards.  According to Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, “Managing strategy is about managing”. This simple logic is usually lost when implementing strategic plans. Most organisations put a lot of focus on moving from the downside of the Stability Pole to the preferred Future Pole.

This creates tension with those in the organisation who value the benefits or upsides of the Stability Pole and can also see what those advocating for the Change do not see – the downsides of the change. They resist the move for fear of losing what is good and working for something that is not truly tested. They fail to see the upsides of the change.


The outcome of these two ways of seeing is that you have two sets of conversations that go across and people just don’t hear each other. At this point  those pushing for the change become even more determined and use whatever means to manage what they call resistance. It doesn’t work! What is required is to acknowledge that you are dealing with two ‘rights’ that need each other over time.

According to Dr. Barry Johnson, we manage polarities by seeing, mapping, assessing, learning and leveraging them. This process has been designed as a model for facilitating and assessing change in individuals, teams, organisations and the society. These five steps form the The Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation (PACT™) model ideal for managing polarities.

The Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation (PACT™) Process

The Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation (PACT™) process is a 5-step process designed to help build your competencies on how to discover and leverage  change as well as your most strategic Polarities (AKA paradox, wicked problems/VUCA, chronic tensions, dilemmas, etc.) to become more innovative, agile, profitable and competitive immediately and over time.

The Program is delivered by BSEA in partnership with Polarity Partnerships (USA) and is designed for leaders, coaches, consultants, managers, and individuals facing complex challenges in their organizations.

In leading change PACTTM:

  • Equips you with the tools to deal successfully with polarities and change. You will learn to see and manage complex and critical challenges that all leaders, teams, and organizational systems face.
  • Helps you to See the whole, Map and Transform the energy contained in polarities
  • Enables you to explore how polarities may help you to better understand the issues and opportunities you’re facing right now, both those inside and outside your organization
  • Helps you to think through the polarities that will provide the greatest leverage in achieving your desired results

You will be able to use Polarity Thinking™ concepts, practices and tools (including the Polarity Map® and the Polarity Assessment™) and gain experience managing polarities in your organization.  PACT™ can be applied to all polarities.

The Five Steps in PACT

Step One: SEEING: This step is about first learning to suspend own biases, assumptions and expectations to give room to self and environmental scanning and to identify key issues. This helps open the doors to appreciating that reality has multiple perspectives leading to multiple explanations leading to multiple solutions as well as seeing how the organization, group or individual creates own difficulties by blocking expression of parts of itself. Secondly, seeing that in managing change, there are two interdependent realities/poles. Since both poles of the polarity are founded in organizational, group or individual reality, focusing on one pole at the expense of the other means the organization (or the individual, or the group) ability to realize its greater or full potential is seriously crippled.

Thirdly, appreciating that both poles have got values and strengths (upsides) and that reestablishing contact between them is the crucial first step in being able to use all their values and strengths in the best interest of the individual, group, or organization.

Fourthly, recognising how multiple stakeholders contribute to the change and their role in making it work.

Fifthly, identifying habitualised behaviours as well as seeing how the organization creates its own difficulties by blocking expression of parts of itself. It is unaware of how it ‘interrupts’ itself’

Step 2: MAPPING  is a values and language clarification process that helps you organise the wisdom generated in Step 1. You are able clarify the  GPS = the Greater Purpose that captures the outcome of the Upsides and the Deeper Fear which is the outcome of the Downsides and as well capture the Upsides (values/beliefs/ positive Results of focusing on poles) and  Downsides (negative results of focusing on the Upsides) for both poles.

The combination of the two realities contained in the poles supports engagement of key stakeholders (those who are influenced by or could influence the process for which you are building the map) in each step of the SMALL process.

Step 3: Change Assessment and Evaluation: In this step, You involve different stakeholders representing the variety of perspectives in (and outside) the organisation to evaluate how well you are currently managing the change and the impact of your actions on your Greater Purpose.

You use Polarity Partnership’s online assessment tool to get real-time results. This reporting assures there is no lag time in your assessment process, and results are immediately available.

Step 4: LEARNING:  This Step involves giving your own meaning to the assessment results. What have you learned from this process so far? How do you understand and interpret the results? What contributed to the results, whether positive or negative? Key stakeholders” presence can enhance the richness of this step. What you learn from this step supports the actions you take in the next one.

Step 5: LEVERAGING – In the last step, you identify Action Steps you need to take to help people to safely experiment with other ways of behaving that might prove to be more effective in modifying habitual behaviors for greater effectiveness. Since both poles have their own particular values and strengths, reestablishing contact between them is the crucial first step in being able to use all their values and strengths in the best interest of the individual, group, or organisation Also, what would be “Early Warnings” that are measurable – early indicators that you are getting into the downside of one pole or the other. Here again, having key stakeholders present will improve the quality and quantity of the Action Steps and Early Warnings.

Your investment…

PACT™ is delivered both as certification programme for individuals and In-House programme for teams.
1. PACT™ Foundations & Professional Applications Certification – A five-day program US$3,990 (excluding all taxes)
2. Inhouse-Programs Groups of 12 – 18 including 16hrs online coaching on initial project US$ 24,500 (net of all taxes and facilitator costs – Travel, accommodation, etc)

Who Should Attend

This course is designed for leaders, managers, consultants, and employees in private, public, religious or nonprofit-sector organizations who have an interest in managing complex and unsolvable issues to attain better results and minimize resistance.

Course Benefits

With PACTTM, you will become more effective in your delivery and in managing resistance as an individual, team or organization. The ability to see, map and leverage polarities helps you to minimize conflicts, resistance and polarization. PACTTM enables you to address big, complex issues without being overwhelmed and to increase the attainability, speed, and sustainability of your change movements.

The course will be taught as a hands-on workshop using interactive lectures, practical examples, case studies, shared participant experiences, and practice sessions. The learning goal of the course is to: Learn how to manage the most wicked problems in our environment.

Certification Requirements

Participants are required to complete the five-day training and to demonstrate comprehension and understanding by identifying and applying PACT™ to a polarity they are struggling with. Facilitator support is available throughout the process.


    BSEA is a Strategy and Performance Management consulting and training firm that provides simple, practical performance improvement solutions that incorporate proven methodologies and software. Training and change management are an integral part of our solutions.


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