A colleague and I did an online course on adaptive leadership this fall. The course was free (through +Acumen) and supported by generous excerpts from a book called The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.
The general idea is that we need to adapt our leadership to situations and the course guides you through exercises which would help you probe particular areas which might require your adaptive skills. The work of the course is to separate technical challenges from ones that are more complex and need emotional commitment and engagement.
Some of the readings that resonated with me were on the execution of tough decisions.
“Tough decisions require that you put your heart into them, nourish the possibilities and then make a commitment to a course of action. If you are struggling with a decision then it is likely that all the options have merit. Outcomes are usually significantly influenced by factors beyond your control and imagination. And most decisions are iterative. You can make a move, take the risk and if things are going well, continue, and if not, take corrective action. See if you can lighten the load on your decisions and even make better choices because tough does not necessarily mean important – stakes may not be as high as you imagine them to be (versus medical judgements which are high stakes). Maybe you are just making the next move on the dance floor. Think of a past tough decision and take heart in knowing that you survived whatever decision you made. And if you need to give yourself permission to fail, prepare the ground for your constituents. Enlist them in giving it a shot – language is crucial – not that you can be counted on to pull this off but rather, perhaps that you are trying something to push the envelope.”
And on building stomach for the journey:
“Building resilience is similar to training for a marathon. You need to start somewhere…In an organizational context, this can kind of training can take the form of staying in a difficult conversation longer than you normally would etc.[…] To further build your stomach for the adaptive leadership journey keep reminding yourself of your purpose. Runners look forward, not down. Saying focused on the goal ahead will keep you from being preoccupied or overwhelmed by the number of steps necessary to get there. ”
“Leading adaptive change will almost certainly test the limits of your patience. […] Impatience can hurt you in numerous ways. Your raise a question and don’t get an immediate response. So you jump right in and keep pounding on the question. Each time you pound, you send the message that you are the only person responsible for that question. You own it. And the more you pound away, the less willing people are to share ownership of the question themselves. And if they do not feel any ownership of the question they will have less investment in whatever the resolution turns out to be.”
“You can find patience by tapping into your ability to feel compassion for others involved in the change effort. Compassion comes from understanding other people’s dilemmas, being aware of how much you are asking of them. Your awareness of their potential losses will calm you down and give you patience as you travel a journey that may be more difficult for them than for you.”
If you want to take on a patience building exercise: Recall situations in the past when you have experienced great patience and think about what enabled you to do that. Perhaps you were patient as your child learned something and you could remember yourself how hard it was for you to learn these skills. Or you believed that most people survive difficult journeys and mastered needed skills so you had optimism that fuelled your patience.