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Wendy Smith - University of Delaware. Newark, DE, US

Wendy Smith

Professor, Management | University of Delaware


Prof. Smith's research focuses on strategic paradoxes – how leaders and senior teams effectively respond to contradictory agendas.



Wendy Smith Publication



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The power of paradox: Dr. Wendy Smith at TEDxUD




Wendy Smith earned her Ph.D. in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, and is currently a professor of management at the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics and Co-director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at the University of Delaware.

Wendy’s research focuses on strategic paradoxes – how leaders and senior teams effectively respond to contradictory agendas. She studies how organizations and their leaders simultaneously explore new possibilities while exploiting existing competencies, and how social enterprises simultaneously attend to social missions and financial goals. Her research has been published in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, Organization Science and Management Science. In 2018, she won the University of Delaware’s first Mid-Career Excellence in Scholarship Award. In 2015, she won the Lerner College Outstanding Scholar Award.

Wendy teaches leadership, organizational behavior and business ethics. She has taught MBAs and undergraduates at University of Delaware, Harvard and University of Pennsylvania – Wharton. Wendy was awarded the University of Delaware MBA Teaching Award in 2016. Wendy has also taught executive and senior leadership teams how to manage interpersonal dynamics, emotional intelligence, high performing teams, organizational change and innovation, managing in times of crisis, and managing strategic paradoxes.

Wendy’s book Both/And Thinking was published by Harvard Business School Press in August 2022.

Industry Expertise (3)



Writing and Editing

Areas of Expertise (5)

Organizational Behavior

Interpersonal Dynamics

Women in the Workplace


Emotional Intelligence

Answers (1)

What does a both/and thinking process look like?

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Both/and thinking enables more creative, sustainable solutions. Valuing opposing sides and seeking connections between them opens us to more creative and sustainable options. Consider Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. He developed this idea by trying to figure out how an object could be at motion and at rest at the same time. Or consider Paul Polman, CEO of packaged goods company Unilever from 2008-2018. He used both/and thinking to craft the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, doubling the company’s profits while reducing their environmental footprint. Both/and thinking invites us to approach our dilemmas by embracing, rather than resisting, these paradoxes.  If we want to apply both/and thinking, the first step is to change the question. We usually frame dilemmas as tradeoffs. While in college, I asked an either/or question. Should I study and teach ideas as an academic or use those ideas to have impact as a leader and consultant? Rather than wait for divine intervention, I could have just flipped a coin. In time, I came to ask a different question: How can I study and teach ideas to have a positive impact on people’s lives? A whole new world of possible answers starts to emerge. Imagine if we changed the questions that we ask around political issues. Today, even everyday conversations sound like candidates arguing their case. What if we changed the question? What if we stopped arguing over who is right and who is wrong? What if instead, we assumed that people with different political views have valid and values-based perspectives, just as we do. What if instead of telling them about our perspective, we ask them to share their experiences and understandings, and see what we can learn from them?

Media Appearances (5)

Can Biden and McCarthy avert a calamitous debt default? 3 evidence-backed leadership strategies that might help

The Conversation  online


The U.S. is teetering toward an unprecedented debt default that could come as soon as June 1, 2023. In order for the U.S. to borrow more money, Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling – currently US$31.4 trillion. President Joe Biden has refused to negotiate with House Republicans over spending, demanding instead that Congress pass a stand-alone bill to increase the debt limit.

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Both/And Thinking

University of Delaware UDaily  online


For the University of Delaware’s Wendy Smith, who is the Dana J. Johnson Professor of Management at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, making a tough business decision doesn’t always have to be either/or, the lesser of two evils, or even a compromise. There’s another option, it can be “Both/And.”

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Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems

Next Big Idea Club  online


Wendy Smith is a professor of management and faculty director at the Women’s Leadership Initiative at the University of Delaware. Marianne Lewis is the dean of Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati, prior to which she was the dean of the Cass Business School in London, England.

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Stumped By False Dilemmas? Try Both/And Thinking

Forbes  online


An insightful guide in making “dilemma-nade” can be found in Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems by Wendy K. Smith and Marianne W. Lewis.

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How many women does it take to change a broken Congress?

The Conversation  online


The new United States Congress has 127 women in the House and Senate, including two Muslim-American women, two Native American women and a 29-year-old.

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Articles (5)

Rapid problem formulation for Societal Impact: Lessons from a decade-long research-practice partnership

Journal of Business Venturing Insights

2023 Problem-oriented research enables scholars to directly explore increasingly complex societal challenges, yet we still lack in-depth insight into the process of problem formulation. In this paper, we offer insight into this process by examining our 10-year engaged research study of Shorefast, a social enterprise based on Fogo Island, Canada, whose mission was to revitalize the community.

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“What may be”: Inspiration from Mary Parker Follett for paradox theory

Strategic Organization

2023 Scholars increasingly turn to paradox theory to offer insight into our world’s greatest challenges. Yet to contribute to radical strategy theorizing concerning those challenges and avoid premature convergence on a narrow set of ideas, paradox scholars need new insights. We turn to early 20th century scholar and activist Mary Parker Follett. We highlight the alignment between Follett’s philosophy and contemporary paradox theory, showing that the two approaches are well-suited traveling companions.

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Today’s Most Critical Leadership Skill: Navigating Paradoxes

Leader to Leader

2022 The authors, well-known for their research into the concept of paradox, explain that “It is one thing to label challenges as paradoxical and another to know what to do about them. In our own research, we have explored that question in depth over the last 25 years. We bring that research together into an integrated model.”

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From a Label to a Metatheory of Paradox: If We Change the Way We Look at Things, the Things We Look at Change

Academy of Management Collections

2022 Over the last 30 years, mounting insights into paradox have enabled a paradigm shift in organizational theory from linear, static, and rational toward more holistic, dynamic, and dualistic thinking. To gain insight into the nature and development of this scholarship, we curated articles from Academy of Management journals. We identified four approaches to paradox—as a label, a lens, a theory, and a metatheory.

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Reflections on the 2021 AMR Decade Award: Navigating Paradox Is Paradoxical

Academy of Management Review

2022 Over the past decade, paradox theory has developed impressively. Such advances have been fueled by a rising collective experience of paradox—as change, scarcity and plurality intensify awareness of conflicting, interdependent and persistent forces—and by a global community of paradox scholars—notably creative, dedicated and mutually supportive.

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Research Grants (3)

General University Research Grant

University of Delaware $6,000


Ocean Frontier Institute

Canada $4,000,000


Institute for Global Studies

University of Delaware $3,000


Accomplishments (5)

Web of Science, Highly Cited Researcher Award (professional)

2019, 2020, 2021 Awarded to top 0.1% of scholars based on research citations in the “Business and Economics” field, including less than 20 scholars in the area of management

University of Delaware E. Arthur Trabant (professional)

2019 Awarded annually to an individual, department, administrative unit, or committee who has contributed to women’s equity at the University

Academy of Management Research, Decade Award (professional)

2021 Awarded to the paper that has had the most impact across a decade for “Toward a Theory of Paradox: A Dynamic Equilibrium Model” (AMR, 2011)

Responsible Research in Management Award (professional)

2020 Awarded to best annual paper addressing responsible management for “Bowing Before Dual Gods” (ASQ, 2019)

Delaware Today, Women in Business Award (professional)

2019 Awarded annually to 20 women in business in the state of Delaware

Education (3)

Harvard University: MA, Psychology 2004

Yale University: BA, Political Psychology 1996

Harvard University: PhD, Organizational Behavior 2006

Affiliations (3)

  • Academy of Management Journal : Editorial Board Member
  • Academy of Management : Member
  • European Group for Organization Studies : Member