Strictly speaking, we don’t need leaders when all is well: when visions are clear, when strategies work, when markets are strong, when the world is stable, when the workforce is happy, when Wall Street is pleased. In such times we need managers, people to execute the vision and strategy, to seize the strong market, to milk the status quo.

No, we need leaders when vision is foggy or absent, when strategies fail, when the tried-and-true is suddenly the lame-and-lousy, when the new vision leaves people numb and dumbfounded, when the world changes dramatically and unpredictably, when all choices seem bad, when the way we work is killing our people, when past success actually impedes future adaptation.

When we are lost. When we sense a world of possibility we’re not seizing. When we just aren’t adapting to flux and change fast enough.

This is the realm of dilemmas, the damned-if-you-do-and-don’t world where one never has enough, or the right, information on which to act, where one road looks like all the others, but everything depends on our choice. Dilemmas rear their maddening heads in all quarters at work: some are strategic, some ethical, others resource or workforce related, others still demand that we weigh short term against long, or what’s good for our careers against what’s best for our families. The common ground in all is the lack of a clear choice, an easy answer, a discernable direction. The information is too ambiguous, untrustworthy, or contradictory on which to base a sound decision—yet act we must. This is a moment of truth for all leaders.

It is in the wise navigation of these predicaments that leaders earn their pay.

With so much at stake, you’d think we’d be well prepared for these inevitable perplexities. But we’re not. We’re trained to analyze and rationally dissect our challenges, but these tools don’t work on dilemmas. After the GE Workout, Toyota Lean Thinking, and the SWOT Analysis, we’re still faced with the same conundrum. And those who are not self aware may never notice the psychological defense mechanisms—the denial, the rationalization, the oversimplification—we routinely employ to avoid facing these intractable problems. But dilemmas won’t go away; rather, they grow more intense and more urgent the longer we avoid them.

What we need is not a quick fix or a way around, but a new way of seeing.

Working effectively with dilemmas requires that we range beyond our rational problem-solving skills, into the less-known terrain of intuition, creative thinking, indigenous problem solving, deep dialog, map making, and personal beliefs and values. We need to learn how to see dilemmas as categorically different kinds of challenges than typical problems, and adjust our thinking accordingly. What emerges is not some ready-made simplistic solution to all problems, but a personal toolbox of additional resources—always available but rarely called upon—with which to confront the confounding.