Problems, problems and more problems. Everyday we struggle to keep up with them and to solve them. As Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky pointed out in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, the single most important skill for exercising adaptive leadership is the diagnosis of problems. However, we as leaders forget that our technical problems, i.e. ones with known solutions, may at times be another person’s adaptive problem, i.e. one where they may need to learn their way through the problem solving process. Because when it comes to diagnosing problems, it is the definition of the problem that more likely will be the problem. This is where shared language can be most helpful.
Next, we need to remember the advice of the previous authors when they wrote that “successful adaptive changes build on the past rather than jettison it.” They do this by determining “what is essential to preserving the organization’s heritage and what is expendable.” From my experience, this determination takes a great deal of personal reflection and very good, in-depth strategic dialogue. The combination makes a huge difference in solving problems.
Finally, we need to realize that in order to solve problems effectively over time, we must build an adaptive organization. Here are the qualities of such an organization as defined by the above authors:
- elephants in the room are named
- responsibility for the organization’s future is shared
- independent judgment is expected
- leadership capacity is developed
- reflection and continuous learning are institutionalized
When the above becomes part of the normal operations of an organization, then we can solve problems more effectively and generate more successful solutions.
This week I challenge you to do a better job of diagnosing your problems and at the exact same time to start building an adaptive organization. This will help you and your organization thrive in the midst of on-going difficulties and challenges.