“There is a desperate hope that people in authority know what they’re doing” (Marty Linsky)
In my September blog, Bloated with Information, I commented that executives can feel ineffective when their organisation values having a ‘big brain’ (being the expert holder of information, facts and knowledge) more highly than it values other skills such as relationship management, influencing, visioning, innovation and teamwork.
Executives can also feel ineffective when they believe that being in a leadership role means they need to know how to do everything. This sense of ineffectiveness is heightened when the work is complex, when there is no clear, discernible path. This is when executives are faced with ‘adaptive challenges’.
In adaptive challenges there is “no known solution – the skills and answers are outside your repertoire. Adaptive challenges are those you have to grow into solving and require mobilizing people’s hearts and minds to operate differently.” (Cambridge Leadership Associates).
This contrasts with the comfort of being skilled in solving technical problems i.e. problems which have a known solution and can be solved by an authority or expert.
“The most common leadership mistake is treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems.” (Cambridge Leadership Associates)
Marty Linsky is a leading expert in Adaptive Leadership. He is an adjunct lecturer in public policy for the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.
Earlier this month the team at the Australian Public Service Commission’s Strategic Centre for Leadership, Learning and Development brought Marty Linsky to Canberra to speak at a number of meetings and seminar sessions.
The session I attended on 15th November came at a perfect time. Two years ago I attended a 6-day “Leading Learning” program run by Social Leadership Australia. The program was based on Adaptive Leadership. Some of what I learnt has faded, so Marty Linsky’s session was an energising refresher.
The timing of the session was also perfect because the Australian Public Sector is facing a range of adaptive challenges around uncertainty, fiscal restraint, change, new government, loss, staffing reductions and so on. It’s an uncomfortable place for executives, many of whom are trying to navigate these adaptive challenges as if they are technical problems. Marty’s session reminded me to be more conscious of the issues clients raise when we work together. Which are the technical problems; which are the adaptive challenges? Are we too quick to fix the surface issues? Is there much more to this? Do we need to approach this differently?
Here are just some of Marty’s thoughts from the session. They caused me to reflect, and I hope you too enjoy reflecting on them. Some are direct quotes, some are a distillation of Marty’s comments.
On shared values
Finally, I’d like to end this last blog for 2013 with a repeat of part of my May 2011 blog. This is from the work of researcher Malcolm Higgs, and meshes nicely with the thoughts above.
“In successful change programs Higgs and his colleagues found that change leaders set the tone and overall direction, yet they allowed people to become responsible for the change and to adjust the plan as the implementation unfolded. That is, leaders were doing change with people, not to people. Analysis revealed that these leaders had four change leadership behaviours:
All the best for the rest of 2013. Enjoy your Christmas, Holiday and New Year break.