Have you ever struggled with a problem that will not go away, despite multiple attempts to solve it?
Adaptive leadership is a practice that helps a leader to engage members of an organisation to adapt to change, and it can help tackle problems which stubbornly persist or face unexpected resistance, despite seemingly obvious solutions.
Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, one of the key proponents of the concept, suggests six principles for leading adaptive change work:
1. ‘Getting on the balcony’
A leader must be able to be able to view patterns in their organisation as if they were on a balcony, looking down on it.
2. Identifying the adaptive challenge
A leader needs to be able to identify and understand the big problems their organisation faces.
3. Regulating distress
Change can be painful and for some it generates distress. Heifetz uses the metaphor of a pressure cooker: “a leader needs to regulate the pressure by turning up the heat while also allowing some steam to escape.”
4. Maintaining disciplined attention
Leaders need to get people to focus on adjustments they might prefer to avoid, and draw out conflicts in a productive way.
5. Giving work back to people
Those at the ‘front lines’ usually have the best insights into their own problems, so leaders need to let people take the initiative in defining and solving their problems.
6. Protecting voices of leadership from below
The larger an organisation, the less voices lower in the hierarchy are likely to be heard. A leader need to truly hear the voices of critics or whistleblowers affected by the change.
If that very, very brief summary has whetted your appetite to learn more about Adaptive Leadership, check out Acumen’s 5 week, online course on “Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for change and disrupting the status quo”.
It begins on 11 May 2021, and it’s designed specifically for leaders in for-purpose organisations.
In the project-based course, you’ll identify a leadership challenge in your work and use the tools and techniques of Adaptive Leadership to make progress on it. The Adaptive Leadership approach was developed at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and equips people with the skills needed to lead change in times of uncertainty in an increasingly complex world.
You’ll learn how to:
- Find the root cause of a stubborn and recurring challenge in your organization, team or community;
- Partner with people in positions of authority or power;
- Recognize your role in the challenge and use your own power to get to a solution; and
- Lead adaptively amidst times of mistrust, resistance, conflict and distress.