How you think about leadership in political contexts needs a refresh according to Ronald Heifetz of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This approach, called “adaptive leadership,” can be found starting with his 1994 book Leadership Without Easy Answers.
The dominant view of leadership is that the leader has the vision and the rest is a sales problem. I think that notion of leadership is bankrupt.
Heifetz trained as a psychiatrist, and describes his view of effective leadership with an analogy from medicine. “When a patient comes to a surgeon, the surgeon’s default setting is to say, ‘You’ve got a problem? I’ll take the problem off your shoulders and I’ll deliver back to you a solution.’ In psychiatry, when a person comes to you with a problem, it’s not your job actually to solve their problem. It’s your job to develop their capacity to solve their own problem.”
Leadership is painful because it involves addressing realities that many organizations and individuals want to avoid. It also deals with reframing, conflict, and persuasion–all difficult challenges that challenges the dominant view of leaders as fast talkers who “tell people what to do.”
What skills will you need to be an adaptive leaders? In an interview with Fast Company, Heifetz explains, in a must read short course:
- Develop a stomach for conflict and uncertainty with “an experimental mind-set” to accept failure
- Active listening “fueled by curiosity and empathy”
- Check your “grandiosity” at the door. Feeling important is natural, but thinking we have all the answers is a problem.
- Survival in an organization or career requires you to not take things personally.
His approach warrants much more discussion and reading, so take a look at these sources:
- “Leadership without Easy Answers” in Healthcare Forum Journal 1995
- “The Work of Leadership” in HBR December 2001
- “The nature of adaptive leadership” in Faith and Leadership (video interview)
- 10 Leadership Tips via Career Infusion (summary of the FC article)