When we are dealing more each day with adaptive problems rather than just technical problems, we enter into a whole new world of leadership, namely the practice of adaptive leadership. Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) have three specific recommendations when this happens.
First, they recommend we not do it alone. They suggest we “find partners who will share the dangers and the exposure. Together, you’ll stand a far better chance of avoiding attacks from opponents and keep your initiative alive.” Realize that adaptive leadership involves being experimental and exploring new ideas. It will surface issues that people may not want to deal with or discuss. Having a strong leadership team will make a profound difference.
Second, they recommend that we “resist the leap to action.” As they note, “adaptive challenges are hard to define and typically require people to reinterpret and question their own priorities, as well as their habits of thinking and behavior.” Remember that once you engage in practicing adaptive leadership, “you will be courting resistance by stirring the pot, upsetting the status quo, and creating disequilibrium.”
Third, they recommend that we “discover the joy of making hard choices.” As they explain, “what makes adaptation complicated is that it involves deciding what is so essential that it must be preserved going forward and what of all that you value can be left behind. Those are hard choices because they involve both protecting what is most important to you and bidding adieu to something you previously held dear: a relationship, a value, an idea, and image of yourself.”
A large part of adaptive leadership is making new and different choices from those you have made in the past. Having partners and resisting the leap to action until in-depth reflection and thought has taken place means you have created a better beginning.