Leadership from the wisdom of others

hands holding a seedling

By Joel L. Domingo, Ed.D.

In the book, “The Little Book of Leadership Development,” author Scott Allen presents fifty different ways to develop leadership skills in others, many of which are either closely related or inspired by the exemplary practices found in Kouzes and Posner’s well known text, “The Leadership Challenge.”

I found that most of these ways to develop leadership skills were small, easy to implement tips that could make a big difference in any organization.

One titled, “Use The Pygmalion Effect,” I found intriguing: It is the principle that if people are led to believe that they will do well, they tend to do well.  Put differently, people will rise to the expectations that you have for them. Another way of developing leaders that the book presents is one that I appreciate– “Encourage Service in the Community,” which gives people the chance to leverage influence and service to others.

The principle of serving others is at the heart of a servant leadership approach.

Of all the strategies, the one that stands out to me is “Helping Diagnose the Challenge – Technical or Adaptive?”  This is a nod to the idea of adaptive leadership, championed by leadership researcher, Ron Heifetz.

Adaptive leadership: mobilizing others through change

Adaptive leadership has long been a favorite of mine because it forces leaders not just to respond to challenges that are before them, with responses based in their knowledge and authority as a leader, but to the issues that lie beyond what is on the surface. The challenges that adaptive leaders face are complex and do not have an easily defined solution. Ultimately, adaptive leaders help mobilize people through these complex and difficult challenges and helps people deal with complexity and change, whatever those may be.

Key to achieving this in any organization is having what in adaptive leadership calls a “holding environment.”

This is an atmosphere where people feel safe to explore and tackle the challenges that are before them. While it does not just refer a physical space, it can also refer to the myriad of ways that cohesion or shared values are kept in an organization. When leaders foster and facilitate this environment of trust, openness, and the sharing of ideas, solutions, even to the toughest of situations can emerge, and the creativity and innovation of the people are brought out.

Isumataq: where wisdom can flourish

There’s a word from the Inuit language that describes the role of an adaptive leader and I think it is quite apropos to this idea of the holding environment. The word is Isumataq, and it is loosely defined as, “The person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.”  Another way it could be said is that it is the person who creates the conditions in which the collective wisdom of the community can flourish.

Think about that for our organizations, whether schools, associations, corporations, businesses, or even official public entities and services. Do you, as a leader, recognize the wisdom, talent, skills, and energies that exists around you? Can you, as a leader, commit to building the structures, processes, and culture where the wisdom of the people is released?

It’s definitely a commitment worth considering.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” Goethe

#Leadership can change the world.  Find out how to begin your master’s or doctoral degrees in leadership, and be the change you wish to see.



Published June 9, 2017



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