Managing Ambivalence

"Ambivalence can be understood as a phenomenon characterized by conflicted desires pertaining to a choice and one's actions" (Simon, 2006, p. 92). Ambivalence can arise from a conflict between two or more strategic plans or the competing factors that determine workforce reductions. When a situation arises in which a leader is faced with ambivalence, he or she can still act and make a decision. There is a difference between ambivalence and indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is the in ability or failure to make a decision when faced with conflicting factors.

Ambivalence is central to strategic leadership because evaluating alternatives is "an essential part of the strategic decision making process and approach—avoidance conflicts are inseparable from a decision making process" (Simon, 2006, p. 92). Ambivalence is created when a decision maker remains open to information, leaving them vulnerability to discovering that their decision is incorrect. A leader should retain the ability to keep an open mind to new information during the decision-making process, as the situation might change and influence the appropriate direction to take.

One of the chief expectations of a strategy leader is to make key decisions on behalf of the stakeholders to create and sustain the competitive advantage of the organization. The resulting alternatives could result in constraints for the organization. Generating alternatives (e.g., inventing, developing, and designing products) is a laborious and costly process, and there are many potential alternatives (Simon, 2007, p. 156). A successful leader must be adept at generating, evaluating and analyzing alternatives for any course of action in order to ensure that the best course of action is taken.


Simon, A. (2006). Leadership and managing ambivalence. Consulting Psychology Journal, 58(2), 91–105.

Simon, H. A. (1997). Administrative behavior (4th ed.). New York: The Free Press.