The two voices of adaptive leadership: Part 3 of 3

The two voices of adaptive leadership: Part 3 of 3

By Dr. Pressley Rankin

In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the theory behind adaptive leadership.  Specifically, I discussed how important informal leadership is when challenges arise that are not easy to solve.  During those times leaders become holding environments for their followers.

To manage that, Heifetz (1994) hypothesized five strategic principles to manage the hard-to-solve challenges and changes.  In Part 2, I discussed the first three of these principles.  This blog will discuss the final two principles and finish the series.

Principle #4: Give work back to people, but at a rate they can stand

Principle four is where the leader begins to develop the talent in their team.  When issues start to derail the work on the challenge or change, the leader must begin to direct certain team members with expertise into the middle of that particular issue.  You begin to develop responsibility by putting pressure on people to design solutions as issues arise.  By holding people accountable you begin to develop the team members to solve the challenge and to manage the change.

Another aspect of Principle four is to direct issues back to the people who consider them the biggest problem.  Instead of letting an employee come to you and complain about a problem or to shift the problem onto another employee, give that problem to the person bringing it up.  They noticed it or caused it, so they should take responsibility for it.  This is another method to keep people from avoiding stress by shifting it back to the leader or other co-workers.

Principle #5: Protect the voices of leadership without authority

Principle five is the last of the strategic principles for adaptive leadership; it is also one of the most important.  As discussed in Part 1, anyone can lead, even without formal authority.  Leaders who have informal authority can often do things that leaders with formal authority cannot.  These leaders often bring up ideas or questions that raise the team’s level of stress.

Informal leaders may also point out contradictions or internal dynamics that others are ignoring.  Without the protection of formal authority, these leaders are often subject to ridicule or punishment from their peers.

A wise adaptive leader will protect these informal leaders.

Allow people to follow their concerns, even if others resist.  The leader must again protect the holding environment by not allowing the stress to get to high; however, these budding leaders must be given room to speak up.

I can hear people saying, “but what about those who complain, or the people who are negative about everything?”  The truth is that those people are managed in Principles 3 and 4, by not allowing an environment for others to scapegoat, attack, blame shift, or other negative behaviors to be expended.

Leaders also give the responsibility of resolving a complaint back to the person bringing it up.  If an individual typically complains, he or she will quickly learn that they will be given the task to solve their own complaint.

Heifetz goes into much more detail in his book and gives captivating examples from history. It is an excellent resource and well worth a read.

Are you a formal or informal leader? Find out what courses you need for a Doctor of Educational Leadership online or by requesting more information, and lead your team to the next level of achievement.

Heifetz, R.A. (1994) Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.