A Survival Guide for Leading through the Dangers of Change
Leadership is not all inspiration, decisive action and rich rewards. To lead is to live dangerously; it requires taking risks, putting yourself on the line, disturbing the status quo, and surfacing hidden conflict. When people resist and push back, there's a strong temptation to play it safe to avoid getting burned. Dr. Ronald Heifetz shows how to lead and stay alive. Giving equal weight to the dangerous work of leading change, and the critical importance of purposeful and personal survival, Dr. Heifetz presents straightforward strategies designed to understand how to survive the practice of leading people to meet great challenges, tackle tough problems, and achieve important change. These strategies include the ability to: “get on the balcony” (above the fray to observe key patterns); distinguish ripe from unripe issues; analyze factional perspectives; interpret systemic dynamics; identify sources of meaning; manage expectations; read opposition; sequence, pace and orchestrate conflict and convergence; give work back to its rightful owners at a rate they can absorb; distinguish between self and role; identify and manage hungers, and preserve a sense of purpose.
Achieving Adaptive Success: Learning to Lead beyond Authority and Technical Problem Solving
Around the world, changes in societies, markets, customers, competition and technology are forcing organizations and those who lead them to clarify their values, develop new strategies, and learn new ways of operating and solving problems. It’s adaptive change – a concept Dr. Ronald Heifetz and his colleague, Riley Sinder, introduced more than three decades ago, and one that has never been more relevant and imperative than it is today. Mobilizing an organization to adapt its strategy and culture in order to succeed in new business environments is critical, Dr. Heifetz says, but it’s hard work for everyone involved. “It’s tough work to a) identify the organizational DNA that’s essential and should be conserved, b) to distinguish this from the DNA that should be discarded, and c) to generate innovation that takes root in the organization so people can bring the best of their history forward and thrive in a changing and challenging world,” he explains. “The most common source of strategic leadership failure is diagnostic: treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems.”
Dr. Heifetz defines the important difference between diagnosing and solving technical problems (those that can be solved with authoritative expertise and good management) versus adaptive challenges (which require a combination of conservation, innovation, and learning). To mobilize adaptive work, senior executives must differentiate between the two types of challenges, as well as between leadership and authority. He discusses how to unbundle the adaptive from the technical components of the challenge; lead across boundaries in all directions; direct attention and responsibility; manage trust and meaning; regulate disequilibrium; and activate widespread leadership that distributes the adaptive work where it must be done.
How to Lead in (Permanent) Crisis
Today’s mix of urgency, high stakes and uncertainty is our new normal – a permanent crisis. Organizations and those who lead them need to get acclimated to the task of generating new operational and cultural capacity to achieve the ongoing organizational and personal ability to create new adaptations to new situations. Dr. Ronald Heifetz discusses the two phases of crisis leadership: emergency, during which leadership must mitigate damage and stabilize the situation, and adaptive, where the underlying challenges are met – as much a process of conservation as it is of reinvention. “Many top executives buckle under the pressure to limit their objectives to damage control rather than leverage the crisis to introduce, frame, and mobilize energy for the adaptive work.” Dr. Heifetz explores the critical skills those in authority positions need in order to practice leadership in both the emergency and adaptive phases. Those who practice leadership cannot prevent or predict crises, but they must be prepared for them. Dr. Heifetz provides the insight and tools to do so, and to seize these moments of opportunity to hit their organization’s “reset” button.
Solving the Leadership Consulting Dilemma
The current call for leadership is huge. After all, everyone wants better leaders. The multi-billion dollar consulting industry delivers an abundance of brilliant ideas for leadership – and produces just as much waste. Perhaps as much as 70-80 percent of strategy consultants’ rich recommendations are never implemented, or they fail shortly after the initial efforts at execution. But it’s not because the strategy isn’t right, says Dr. Ronald Heifetz. It’s because the consulting industry simply doesn’t have the analytical tools, the fine-grain organizational data gathering know-how, and consulting artistry required to help their clients effectively lead change. In today’s complex times, consultants cannot expect clients to simply take good strategic analysis and turn recommendations into organizational solutions. Solutions are merely proposals if they do not take life in the attitudes, habits, values, and actions of people throughout an organization. Strategy development that brings implementation up front, and then consults to clients on the complex and dangerous politics of change is a vast, interesting, and critically important frontier. Dr. Heifetz is helping teach the consulting industry to do leadership consulting right, and well.
Ronald Heifetz began his work on leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School in 1983, where he founded the Center for Public Leadership and is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership. Heifetz advises heads of governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations and speaks extensively throughout the world. Heifetz co-developed the “adaptive model” of leadership with Riley M. Sinder and a team of colleagues at the Kennedy School. His research focuses on building the adaptive capacity of organizations and societies. His first book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, (1994) is considered a classic in the field. He coauthored the best-selling Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading with Marty Linsky (2002). His third book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World, (2009) was coauthored with Linsky and Alexander Grashow. His books have been translated into many languages.
Heifetz is also well-known for developing transformative methods of leadership education and development. His courses on leadership at Harvard are legendary. Drawing students from throughout Harvard’s graduate schools and neighboring universities, they have consistently won the alumni award for the most influential courses at the Kennedy School. His teaching methods are the subject of the book, Leadership Can Be Taught, by Sharon Daloz Parks (Harvard Business Press, 2005). A graduate of Columbia University, Harvard Medical School, and the Kennedy School, Heifetz is a physician and cellist. He trained initially in surgery before deciding to devote himself to the study of leadership in public affairs and business.
Heifetz completed his medical training in psychiatry. As a cellist, he was privileged to have studied with Russian virtuoso, Gregor Piatigorsky.