Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

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When change requires you to challenge people's familiar reality, it can be difficult, dangerous work. Whatever the context--whether in the private or the public sector--many will feel threatened as you push though major changes. But as a leader, you need to find a way to make it work.

Ron Heifetz first defined this problem with his distinctive theory of adaptive leadership in Leadership Without Easy Answers. In a second book, Leadership on the Line, Heifetz and coauthor Marty Linsky highlighted the individual and organizational dangers of leading through deep change in business, politics, and community life. Now, Heifetz, Linsky, and coauthor Alexander Grashow are taking the next step: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership is a hands-on, practical guide containing stories, tools, diagrams, cases, and worksheets to help you develop your skills as an adaptive leader, able to take people outside their comfort zones and assess and address the toughest challenges.

The authors have decades of experience helping people and organizations create cultures of adaptive leadership. In today's rapidly changing world, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership can be your handbook to meeting the demands of leadership in the midst of complexity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781422105764
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 5/11/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 70,343
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky are cofounders and Principals of Cambridge Leadership Associates and authors of previous books on adaptive leadership, with over fifty years of teaching and leadership consulting experience between them. Alexander Grashow is Cambridge Leadership Associates Director of Consulting Practice and has extensive experience as a leadership consultant, teacher, and trainer.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Part 1 Introduction: Purpose and Possibility

1 How to Use This Book 5

Overview 8

Adaptive Challenges and Adaptive Capacity 10

2 The Theory Behind the Practice 13

The Illusion of the Broken System 17

Distinguishing Technical Problems from Adaptive Challenges 19

Distinguishing Leadership from Authority 23

Living in the Disequilibrium 28

Observe, Interpret, Intervene 32

Experiment and Take Smart Risks Smartly 36

Engage Above and Below the Neck 37

Connect to Purpose 38

3 Before You Begin 41

Don't Do It Alone 41

Live Life as a Leadership Laboratory 42

Resist the Leap to Action 44

Discover the Joy of Making Hard Choices 45

Part 2 Diagnose the System

4 Diagnose the System 49

The Elegance and Tenacity of the Status Quo 49

Discover Structural Implications 54

Surface Cultural Norms and Forces 57

Recognize Default Interpretations and Behavior 63

5 Diagnose the Adaptive Challenge 69

Determine the Technical and Adaptive Elements 70

Listen to the Song Beneath the Words 76

Four Adaptive Challenge Archetypes 77

6 Diagnose the Political Landscape 89

Uncover Values Driving Behavior 91

Acknowledge Loyalties 93

Name the Losses at Risk 96

Realize Hidden Alliances 97

7 Qualities of an Adaptive Organization 101

Name the Elephants in the Room 102

Share Responsibility for the Organization's Future 103

Value Independent Judgment 103

Build Leadership Capacity 104

Institutionalize Reflection and Continuous Learning 105

Part 3 Mobilize the System

8 Make Interpretations 113

Notice When People Are Moving Toward the Left Side of the Chart 116

Reframe the Group's Default Interpretations 118

GenerateMultiple Interpretations 120

Audition Your Ideas 122

Generate a Diversity of Interpretations 122

9 Design Effective Interventions 125

Step 1 Get on the Balcony 126

Step 2 Determine the Ripeness of the Issue in the System 126

Step 3 Ask, Who Am I in This Picture? 128

Step 4 Think Hard About Your Framing 128

Step 5 Hold Steady 129

Step 6 Analyze the Factions That Begin to Emerge 130

Step 7 Keep the Work at the Center of People's Attention 130

10 Act Politically 133

Expand Your Informal Authority 133

Find Allies 136

Stay Connected to the Opposition 138

Manage Authority Figures 142

Take Responsibility for Casualties 144

Protect and Engage the Voices of Dissent 145

11 Orchestrate Conflict 149

Create a Holding Environment 155

Select Participants 158

Regulate the Heat 159

Give the Work Back 161

12 Build an Adaptive Culture 165

Make Naming Elephants the Norm 166

Nurture Shared Responsibility for the Organization 168

Encourage Independent Judgment 169

Develop Leadership Capacity 170

Institutionalize Reflection and Continuous Learning 171

Part 4 See Yourself as a System

13 See Yourself as a System 181

Your Many Identities 182

14 Identify Your Loyalties 187

Prioritize Your Loyalties 189

Name Your Unspeakable Loyalties 191

15 Know Your Tuning 195

Know Your Triggers 200

Hungers and Carrying Water 201

16 Broaden Your Bandwidth 205

Discover Your Tolerances 206

17 Understand Your Roles 209

What Roles Do You Play? 210

Identify Your Scope of Authority 215

18 Articulate Your Purposes 221

Prioritize Your Purposes 225

The Story You Tell Yourself 228

Part 5 Deploy Yourself

19 Stay Connected to Your Purposes 233

Negotiate the Ethics of Leadership and Purpose 233

Keep Purposes Alive 236

Negotiate Your Purposes 239

Integrate Your Ambitions and Aspirations 242

Avoid Common Traps 244

20 Engage Courageously 247

Get Past the Past 247

Lean Into Your Incompetence 252

Fall in Love with Tough Decisions 255

Get Permission to Fail 258

Build the Stomach for the Journey 260

21 Inspire People 263

Be with Your Audience 264

Speak from the Heart 269

22 Run Experiments 277

Take More Risks 280

Exceed Your Authority 282

Turn Up the Heat 284

Name Your Piece of the Mess 286

Display Your Own Incompetence 287

23 Thrive 289

Grow Your Personal Support Network 289

Create a Personal Holding Environment 292

Renew Yourself 295

Notes 299

Glossary 303

Index 309

About the Authors 325

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  • Posted June 4, 2009

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    Compelling and Relevant

    With the danger of business collapse all around us, as a corporate HR director, I am continually searching for new and better books dealing with leadership. For me, leadership is the key (and only key) to long-term survival. With our leadership, we must continuously adapt to new realities if we are to live to fight another day.

    Important lessons within these pages are:

    1. Leading with the courage and skill to challenge the status quo.
    2. Deploy themselves with agility.
    3. Mobilize others to step into the unknown.

    This book offers a realistic hands-on guide to making our leadership successful and more influential. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership will help me enhance my decision making process ensuring that I make not only make more correct decisions but that I make them in a timely manner.

    This book provides a thorough and systemic approach to assessing situations and provides guidance into the actions we should take. I particularly appreciated the diagrams, techniques, and activities that help assess the dangerous challenges that lie in our path.

    I recommend the Practice of Adaptive Leadership as it will help obtain the leadership skills needed in this complicated arena we call the business world. I would like to also recommend High Altitude Leadership. I believe that most readers will find that it is a very "adaptive" approach also.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    To change the world you need to start with yourself.

    So many of the world's problems, and the issues that businesses and people face every day, can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky propose a new way to lead the charge to change: "Adaptive leadership" calls for shedding outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide organizations in the 21st century. The authors' counsel combines wisdom from psychology, biology, language and business with a healthy dose of self-assessment to help you and your company face ongoing challenges. Filled with useful exercises, real-life examples and thoughtful asides, their book can help you make difficult decisions about change. This process takes time, energy and self-knowledge, but the rewards you and your organization will reap are worth it. getAbstract recommends this inclusive leadership manual and its lessons about leading adaptively to budding and current business leaders, heads of nonprofits, and politicians who face challenges that require new responses.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Adaptive Leadership

    I honestly wasn't expecting to find a book that talks about innovation and be able to capture my attention completely; usually you kind of nod off when you read a book that is taking a stab at something mathematically or doesn't offer you any interesting information, but this book was not only written very well, but it also offers numerous examples to help its readers associate themselves with the techniques discussed. If you ever find yourself wondering what kinds of things will help better your performance, in both your professional and personal life, then I would highly recommend reading this book. It really was an interesting read and was unique with its persepectives.

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