I spent the past week in the beauty of Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center at the West Coast Presbyterian Pastors Conference.
I am uploading my speaking notes here for the attendees and others who want to follow along.
"Adaptive Leadership consists of the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.”
Anybody who has ever been to London has seen the ubiquitous “Mind the Gap” signs in the underground. They warn train travelers to watch their step because of the small chasm created between the train and the platform.
For leaders of organizational change, we face our own chasms, or our own gaps. Indeed, leadership is exercised in helping our charges “mind the gap” between our aspired values and our actions, between our values and the reality we face.
So here is a quick list of how leaders Mind the Gap and enter into adaptive work.
- Get up on
the balcony (while listening from the floor). This is exhausting work, but it is the
primary work. Leaders must be listeners
and people who have the vision to see the deeper systemic realities at work in
the organization. What is the ‘music’ that keeps our organization, our church,
our family ‘dancing’?
- Give the
work back to the people most effected by the challenge. Are you the only one who is losing sleep over the
challenges that you face? What can we do
as leaders to ‘escape the expert expectation’?
First thing: transition from being the “great answer giver” to a “great
question asker." Raise the issues for others to deal with and get them wrestling with you.
focused. Leading people to grow so
THEY can face their biggest challenge. Leadership is mostly about learning. Group learning, corporate and collegial
learning. To lead is to learn and lead
the learning. If learning isn’t
necessary, then leadership isn’t really necessary. The task at hand can be really important,
even vital, but it’s likely stewardship—protecting and preserving what is most
- Go with
the energy. Work with the mature and motivated. Let’s face it, most of our
work (especially as pastors) is putting out fires, dealing with the
resistant, attending to the cranky and trying to appease the complainers. These
are part of our work and indeed, the people to whom we are called. But when it
is time to lead on, more and more of your energy must be invested in those who
are motivated to grow and taking responsibility for themselves. Go with the
energetic and you’ll have more energy for the others.
work: Leading means dealing with loss. “Growing up means giving up.” Adaptive work is about the helping people
raise and make hard decisions about competing values in their lives. Competing
values can only be solved through Win-Lose.
(“Win-win is lose-lose.”) This means something must give, something must
go, something will be lost.
- Get on with it! Get to work, go into the new uncharted territory. After you make some observations and interpretations, try some PLAYFUL interventions. Get right into the middle of the muddled mess. Experiment. (Remember what Thomas Friedman wrote about solving the world’s biggest problems? “We need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages doing 100,000 experiments so that five will work.” ) Don’t wait until you figure out the future, step into and learn along the way. You’ll make mistakes and take missteps, but lead on!