Having just read the article, Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, I have a renewed appreciation the value of adaptive leadership. Their article appeared in Harvard Business Review, July/August 2009.
Ronald Heifetz has shared in thinking about adaptive leadership in other venues as well. Here is a You Tube Video interview that was aired on Faith and Leadership.
Here are some of the many bright spots from the article.
Heifetz advocates for adaptive leadership and building capacity in your team because:
The organizational adaptability required to meet a relentless succession of challenges is beyond anyone’s current expertise.
Leaders should surround themselves with people from diverse perspectives, being sure to have members of the team that are willing to challenge ideas.
That is because you will need people’s help-not their blind loyalty as they follow you on a path to the future but their enthusiastic help in discovering the path.
I like how Heifetz sees leadership as a process that requires some improvisation. He sees good leadership as requiring some of the artistic attributes we would associate with creative people.
He makes a strong case that effective leaders “confront loyalty to legacy practices.” I don’t believe he advocates for abandoning legacy practices, but he does advocate not following them blindly. That often gets leaders into trouble or keeps them from taking the organization from ‘good to great.’
While an adaptive leader allocates time and resources to eliminating practices that might be poorly suited to a changing environment, Heifetz writes:
you must distinguish the essential from the expendable.
Throughout the article, Heifetz makes the case that building leadership capacity in the “team” is one of the primary responsibilities of an effective leader. A leader does this by nurturing:
a culture of courageous conversations.
When organizations are faced with difficult situations, effective leaders engage their team in difficult conversations. He writes:
Dissenters who can provide crucial insights need to be protected from the organizational pressure to remain silent.
One way to achieve a more distributed form of leadership in times of crisis is:
to distribute leadership responsibility more broadly…mobilize everyone to generate solutions by increasing the information flow that allows people across the organization to make independent decisions and share the lessons learned from innovative efforts.
This ideas strikes me as being quite relevant for K-12 school leaders. Typically in K-12 schools, principals (or other school leaders) hold their power and information “quite close to their chest,” rarely distributing leadership to their faculty in meaningful ways. As a result, the faculty miss out on the opportunity to impact school reform or become change agents because they lack power and information.
Finally, some of his best advice in the article is that leaders need to care for themselves. A leader who is married to their job is more than likely not going to be as effective as he or she could be.
Taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally will be crucial to your success. You can achieve none of your leadership aims if you sacrifice yourself to the cause.
His suggests that to become an effective leader you have to:
- give yourself permission to be both optimistic and realistic
- find sanctuaries
- reach out to confidants
- bring more of your emotional self to the workplace
- don’t lose yourself in the role
So if you are a leader who is looking for some professional wisdom, I suggest reading Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, by Heifetz and his team. It is critical to see that he believes we lead in “permanent crisis.”