Book Review: The Manager’s Dilemma by Jesse Sostrin



With a PhD in Philosophy focusing on organisational systems and a nationally recognised speaker on leadership and practical management, you know that when Jesse Sostrin writes something, its going to be something worth reading.


The Manager’s Dilemma: Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands and Shrinking Resources    is a book that offers managers a series of options to overcome what has become one of the biggest challenges of modern management.  That challenge is what Sostrin calls The Manager’s Dilemma.  It is the state of being so overwhelmed by attempting to deliver more output with less resources, such that it isn’t possible to see or to implement the solutions that will help solve the key problem.

The dilemma is in seeing the logical next step and not having the spare resources to take that step.  It is in  spotting the flaw in the system but not being able to stop the process to fix that flaw.

The aim of Sostrin’s book then is to explore the dilemma and offer options and practical tools to start escaping its grasp.

To do this he offers 8 actions or routes out of the dilemma that echo the way you got into the situation in the first place:

1. The dilemma leaves us feeling trapped, with unattractive options. Look contradictions you can exploit such as rushing to complete induces errors, so slow down a reduce errors creating breathing space to resolve the pressure.

2. Being under pressure distorts your view so take time to refocus on your priorities and so find the differences that make a difference.

3. We add extra effort but become less effective so we focus on where there is best contribution.

4. We leak time, energy, resources or focus so we need to identify the leaks and plug them.

5. We accomplish the wrong things so we need to look at how we create more value.

6. We feel powerless and and unable to influence the situation so we need to find where a small amount of influence can make a large difference.

7. We feel unable to exploit everyday problems so we need to find a way to exploit challenges and use them for motivation.

8. We can feel as if the situation is divisive creating an us and them situation so we need to find mutually beneficial goals.

So these issues feed the dilemma and your role as a manager is to find an effective way out.

If you read this list of factors, you may see some areas of repetition and there does seem to be some commonalities in the challenges.

For example, reviewing priorities and looking at where there is best contribution are very similar, also slowing down to to improve performance is similar to looking at how to create more value with less. Sostrin has however broken these similar factors into smaller nuanced views to highlight how the manager can step out of the dilemma in multiple ways.

An important insight for me was how we leak the key resources in the managers toolbox. This leak of Time, Energy, Resources and Focus (TERF) comes in many forms, individual and team.  A strong manager will need to watch for a variety of leaks in the TERF and I will certainly look for them when I start to feel overwhelmed on a project.

Sostrin has some additional tools within the book including a series of assessments and indicators for how deep you are in the dilemma. Once you know where you are, it is easier to see which of the the 8 routes out to apply. So all in all this is not just a book on management philosophy but q quite a practical manual for the modern manager.

With a clear and well articulated discussion of the dilemma, its impact and ways out of the situation, Sostrin has, characteristically, found a new context and diverse set of ways to understand the more demanding problems of the modern manager.

This book will give managers at any level, insight and clear direction on how to overcome the dilemma and how to recognise the warning signs well in advance so they can focus on the work that really adds value.

Dare to Aspire

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