In the world of adaptive change and organizational transformation, there is a lot of office politics. Effective leaders know how to manage these different elements and all of the different personalities involved. It is not easy work, but it is powerfully important work.
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) point out the following: “By acting politically, we mean using your awareness of the limits of your own authority, and of stakeholders' interests, as well as power and influence networks in your organization, to forge alliances with people who will support your efforts, to integrate and defuse opposition, and to give valuable dissenting voices a hearing as you adjust your perspective, interventions and mobilize adaptive work.”
The first step from my own experience and from what the above authors have researched is that we need to find allies in order to be effective. As they write, “Trying to lead an adaptive set of interventions without allies is like braving Buffalo, New York, in the dead of winter without a warm coat. That is especially true when you attempt to lead change in a group or organization of more than twenty people. In such settings, the complexity of the political landscape is way beyond anyone’s ability to navigate alone.” Allies and confidants are very helpful in understanding the political landscape.
The second step is “take responsibility for casualties.” This is very important and I have seen it done well and done very poorly. The impact of either way is profound and long lasting. As the above authors note, “adaptive change results in casualties: people in the organization who loose something of value, whether it is a familiar way of doing things, status, job, or in the military, their lives.”
Recognizing that casualties are inevitable, we need, as leaders, to pay attention to them, spend time with them, acknowledge our role in creating them, and find ways to help them in a respectful manner to endure what is happening or to get on with their life in a new way.
This is important strategically, the above authors remind us, because you are “communicating to the allies of those who have become casualties: if these allies see you treating their friends humanely, they may have more positive feelings about you and your initiative. If they see you treat their friends callously, they will have one more good reason not to come on board.”
This week, find more allies and prepare for how you will take responsibility for casualties. When we hold ourselves accountable in this manner for the outcomes of our decisions and our actions, large or small, we send an important message as a leader.