The changes that are required for our organizations to succeed and thrive will disturb our comfortable view of work. Successful leaders must not only manage that feeling of disequilibrium, but make it productive. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linksy label this Adaptive Leadership.
Adaptive leaders tackle the real issues we all face, while pushing people to look at the world differently. I just experienced a powerful example of adaptive leadership when Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, challenged a group of leaders to “…ask ourselves hard questions: Can we really succeed doing things the way we are now, and what do I need to do differently?” That was a scary question but it made me, and all of us, closely examine what is important to us and to our students! And what are we willing to do about it? Will we step into the disequilibrium of real change and make a difference?
Heifetz highlights that leaders must be able to manage their own reactions and those of their team during these unsettled times. A metaphor that he uses is to “get off the swirl of the dance floor and get onto the balcony.” Intentionally stepping back from the chaos of a situation and observing it from a distance can help leaders see patterns, underlying issues, connections, and unexpected opportunities. The view from the balcony also allows leaders to recognize their own fears and beliefs about the situation and not allow them to cloud their interpretation of the events.
Adaptive leadership is all about connecting first with your own values, beliefs and fears and then connecting with the values, beliefs and fears of your people while asking them to take on the tough challenges we face in making a real difference. That is deeply personal work.