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5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79In the past three weeks, we have talked about leadership postures that increase the likelihood that change will go well. We have talked about change identification and building change capacity in the past two months. This week, we look at the third posture, leaning in to the vulnerabilities of adaptive leadership.

Successfully leading through change requires simultaneous confidence and humility. Both confidence and humility ground us in our own vocation while complex, and often chaotic, situations develop through the change process. We take humility as our baseline in all situations, remembering that:

 

  • We didn't get here on our own.
  • We know we have blind spots.
  • We have more to learn.
  • We can learn from our critics and enemies.
  • This too shall pass.
  • We are but dust.

This kind of humility challenges the protective and defensive behaviors our training as leaders has often conferred on us. Our training tells us that leaders command confidently, often blustering our way into whatever is next. More often than not we lead by:

  • Telling instead of asking.
  • Knowing instead of discovering.
  • Deciding instead of inviting input.
  • Doing for instead of doing with.
  • Asking "how can I help" instead of asking "who is the right person for this?

In change situations, and adaptive change especially, instead of starting with "I know how to get us out of this", a leader has to start with "I don't know." That is because the most significant change operates outside of a leader's direct control:

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5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79Over the past two weeks, we have started conversation into four major postures involved in leading organizational change. Last week, we talked about identifying the different types of change involved in an organization: technical and adaptive. This week, we're looking at  how to build capacity to handle change your organization.

As we discussed in the introductory article to this series,

"Building change capacity means that the organization's ability to manage and integrate changes increases and improves over time. Instead of just having the capacity to manage this current change, the organization is empowered to manage the change after that, and the one after that, and so on. Given the complexity facing most organizations, change capacity is essential to both long-term stability and overall return on investment."

There are six general aspects to building change capacity. Each interacts with the others to help an organization grow as it experiences change. 

  • Process Capacity
  • People Capacity
  • Leadership Capacity
  • Clear Measurement
  • Feedback Loops
  • Productive Disequilibrium

Let's unpack each one of these and see how it impacts change capacity. In each, we will highlight the impact on change capacity in bold italic.

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5aa5c142 b2e0 47cf bf72 7eef5206f5f9 1781458 28029 gfqg3jym3k79Last week, I wrote about four leadership postures for organizational change. These postures shape our leadership stance, increasing the likelihood that our change process will achieve healthy results.

The first posture of those four was change identification - knowing what type of change we were dealing with: adaptive or technical. To recap the difference between the two:

"Adaptive changes deal with habits, mindsets, and behaviors, and require organizations and their leaders to learn something new to resolve the challenges at hand. Adaptive changes often have open-ended problem definitions and solutions. Technical changes, by contrast, require application of specific skills to bring a closed-ended issue to resolution."

Putting this posture first hints at its importance. So why is identifying adaptive change important for organizational leaders?

To understand its importance, we have to look at our usual starting point. For a summary of the reasons why, skip to the end - otherwise, read on!

Where we (tend to) start

As leaders, we are trained to attack most problems as technical issues, which our expertise or an outside product will be able to resolve. Perhaps our challenge fits squarely in the middle of our deep, core expertise, something we trained for, we have degrees and certifications in, and have practiced over time. Alternatively, we may perceive the current challenge to be adjacent to our core expertise, and so we tend to apply our expertise there as well - to the degree we can.

This is how most of us were taught to solve problems: see problem, find solution. This works very well when we are working our way up through our core expertise - whether deepening it, broadening it, or both. This works particularly well in fields where the same problems come up over and over again, and the application of technique, product, or knowledge is tried and proven suitable.

The problem comes when we find ourselves in our first leadership position where our core expertise is only a part of what we do. All of a sudden, the "Hello, Problem; meet Solution" approach doesn't work in all those other areas.

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