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Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection among species also applies to organizations and even to individuals within an organization. Those that do not adapt do not survive; only those that do adapt thrive. Therein lie two of the greatest challenges now facing those entrusted with leadership responsibilities: How to prepare, launch, sustain, and then successfully complete change initiatives? How to respond effectively to change initiatives that originate elsewhere? Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky respond to these and other questions when sharing their thoughts about what adaptive leadership involves and what it requires of those who practice it. Almost immediately, they focus the relationship of adaptive leadership to thriving: It is specifically about change; builds on the past rather than repudiating it; achieves organizational adaptation through continuous experimentation; heavily relies on diversity (i.e. talents, skills, experience, and perspectives); ensures that new adaptations significantly displace, re-regulate, or rearrange whatever is defective, obsolete, or irrelevant; and usually requires (as do biological adaptations) both time, patience, and persistence. Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky observe, "There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way...As our colleague Jeff Lawrence poignantly says, `There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it gets.Read more ›
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Let me start off by letting you know I'm biased. I have met both Heifetz and Linsky and hold the highest admiration and respect for them both personally and professionally.
With their former book, Leadership on the Line, I learned about the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges and the distinction between leadership and authority. They also taught me that a major failure of leadership is treating an adaptive challenge with a technical solution. Once I learned this I have seen it play out over and over again everywhere I turn. It is a gem I have passed on to my graduate students in educational leadership. It has also resonated strongly with them.
The sequel, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, has taken the concepts and strategies for leadership interventions to a new level of meaning. Learning more about the power of disequilibrium in promoting change and the encouragement to run small experiments have been further sharpened by this new book. Leaders, I've learned from the authors, are often too quick to jump on default action steps without first thinking through diagnostic options. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership addresses diagnosis of the system, diagnosis of self, how to mobilize the system, and how to most effectively deploy self. I highly recommend this book!
With my next group of doctoral students, I plan to use three books that make up a complementary, powerful trilogy: Leadership on the Line, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, and Immunity to Change (Kegan and Lahey).
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Adaptive leadership is very important. In the few pockets of business and organizational life these days that are untouched by the turbulence around us, business as usual is, it would seem, acceptable. The trouble is that there are so few arenas where that is the case. Finding ways to lead in a way that can adjust to rapid and often unexpected change is critical.
I received a review copy of this book from Harvard Business Press. When it arrived I was very excited to dig in and get jazzed by all the great content. The problem was that the book was about as dull to read as it was to look at (I scrawled this on my cover: "Don't judge a book by its cover. In this case you should. This books cover is really boring"). I was twenty pages in when I felt that they were in trouble. It felt like a Harvard Business Press word container with WalMart content inside. My disappointment was that it lacked any real edge. For people who are deeply immersed in complexity theory and related pursuits that examine how systems change over time, there just wasn't any real insight. For people who don't like that sort of thing, it would, I fear, feel impenetrable.
Reading about next things should be engaging, compelling, shocking even. This book wasn't any of that. I felt genuinely disappointed as I worked my way through out. I just couldn't track with the style or flow. It felt like I was at a really dull meeting that was supposed to be important but somehow wasn't. No Wheatley. No Holling. No Stacey. No Sante Fe Institute. No Kauffman. No cheeky Tom Peters feel. No Dave Snowden deadpan humour. Nothing daring.Read more ›