The Work of Leadership Followers want comfort stability, and solutions from their leaders. But that’s babysitting. Real leaders Sometimes an article comes along and turns the conventional thinking on a subject not upside down but inside out. So it is with this landmark piece by Ronald Heifers and Donald Laurie, published In January 1997 Monotony do the authors Introduce the breakthrough concept of adaptive change-the sort of change that occurs when people and organizations are forced to adjust to a radically altered environment-they challenge the traditional understanding of the leader-follower relationship.
Leaders are shepherds, goes the conventional thinking, protecting their flock from harsh surroundings. Not so, say the authors. Leaders who truly care for their followers expose them to the painful reality of their condition and demand that they fashion a response. Instead of giving people false assurance that their best Is good enough, leaders insist that people surpass themselves. And rather than smoothing over conflicts, leaders force disputes to the surface.
Modeling the candor they encourage leaders to display, the authors don’t disguise adaptive change’s emotional costs. Few people are likely to hank the leader for stirring anxiety and uncovering conflict But leaders who cultivate emotional fortitude soon learn what they can achieve when they maximize their flowerbed’s- being instead of their comfort. ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones. Then they manage the resulting distress. By Ronald A.
Heifers and Donald L Laurie o , Jack Pritchard had to change his life. Triple bypass surgery and medication could help, the heart surgeon told him, but no technical fix could release Pritchard from his own responsibility for changing the habits of a lifetime. He had to stop smoking, improve his diet, get some exercise, and take time to relax, remembering to breathe more deeply each day. Pritchard doctor could provide sustaining technical expertise and take supportive action, but only Pritchard could adapt his ingrained habits to improve his long-term health.
The doctor faced the leadership task of monopolizing the patient to make critical behavioral changes; Jack Pritchard faced the adaptive work figuration which specific changes to make and how to incorporate them into his daily life. Companies today face challenges similar to the ones that confronted Pritchard and is editor. They face adaptive BEST OF HUB ; The work of Leadership challenges. Changes in societies, markets, customers, competition, and technology around the globe are forcing organizations to clarify their values, develop new strategies, and learn new ways of operating.
Often the toughest task for leaders in effecting change is monopolizing people throughout the organization to do adaptive work. Adaptive work is required when our deeply held beliefs are challenged, when the values that made us successful become less relevant, and when legitimate yet competing perspectives emerge. We see adaptive challenges every day t every level of the workplace – when develop or implement strategy, or merge businesses.
We see adaptive challenges when marketing has difficulty working with operations, when cross-functional teams don’t work well, or when senior executives complain,”We don’t seem to be able to execute effectively. ” Adaptive problems are often systemic problems with no ready answers. Monopolizing an organization to adapt its behaviors in order to thrive in new business environments is critical. Without such change, any company today would falter. Indeed, getting people to do adaptive work is the mark of leadership in a competitive world.
Yet for most senior executives, providing leadership and not Just authoritative expertise is extremely difficult. Why? We see two reasons. First, in order to make change happen, executives have to break a longstanding behavior pattern of their own; providing leadership in the form of solutions. This tendency is quite natural because many executives reach their opt>actions of authority by virtue of their Solutions to adaptive challenges reside not in the executive suite but in the collective intelligence of employees at all levels. Competence in taking responsibility and solving problems.
But the locus of responsibility for problem solving when a company faces an adaptive challenge must shift to its people. Solutions to adaptive challenges reside not in the executive suite but in the collective intelligence of employees at all levels, who need to use one another as resources, often across boundaries, and learn their way to those solutions. Second, adaptive change is distressing for the people going through it. They need to take on new roles, new relationships, new values, new behaviors, and new approaches to work.
Many employees are ambivalent about the efforts and sacrifices required of them. They often look to the senior executive to take problems off their shoulders. But those expectations have to be unlearned. Rather than fulfilling the expectation that they will provide answers, leaders have to ask tough questions. The pinch of reality in order to stimulate them to adapt. Instead of orienting people to their current roles, leaders must disorient them so that new relationships can develop, instead of quelling conflict, leaders have to draw the issues out.
Instead of maintaining norms, leaders have to challenge “the way we do business” and help others distinguish immutable values from historical practices that must go. Drawing on our experience with managers from around the world, we offer six principles for leading adaptive work: “getting on the balcony,” identifying the adaptive challenge, regulating distress, maintaining disciplined attention, giving the work back to people, and protecting voices of leadership from below. We illustrate those principles with an example of adaptive change at KEMP Netherlands, a professionalism’s firm.
Get on the Balcony Ervin “Magic” Johnny’s greatness in leading his basketball team came in part from his ability to play hard while keeping the whole game situation in mind, as if he Todd in a press box or on a balcony above the field of play. Bobby Orr played tykes in the same way. Other players might fail to recognize the larger patterns of play that performers like Johnson and Orr quickly understand, because they are so engaged in the game that they get carried away by it. Their attention is captured by the rapid motion, the physical contact, the roar of the crowd, and the pressure to execute.
In sports, most players simply may not see who is open for a pass, who is missing a block, or how the offense and defense work together. Players like Johnson and Orr watch these things and allow their observations to guide their Ronald A. Heifers is coeditor of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Donald L. Actions. Laurie is founder and managing director of Laurie International, a Boston-based Business leaders have to be able to management consulting;arm. He is also a founder and partner at Oyster management consulting;arm.
He is the author (if Venture cons. It does them no good to be swept Catalyst (Peruses Books, 2001). This article is based in part on Heifer’s Leadership up in deflector action. Leaders have to Without Easy Answers (Bellman Press of Harvard University Press, i)see a context for change or create one. 132 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW The work of Leadership ; BEST O F HUB They should give employees a strong sense of the history of the enterprise and what’s good about its past, as well as an idea of the market forces at work today and the responsibility people must take in shaping the future.
Leaders must be able to identify struggles over values and power, recognize patterns of work avoidance, and watch for the many other functional and dysfunctional reactions to change. Without the capacity to move back ND forth between the field of action and the balcony, to reflect day to day, moment to moment, on the many ways in which an organization’s habits can sabotage adaptive work, a leader easily and unwittingly becomes a prisoner of the system. The dynamics of adaptive change are far too complex to keep track of, let alone influence, if leaders stay only on the field of play.
We have encountered several leaders, some of whom we discuss in this article, who manage TTT> spend much of their precious time on the balcony as they guide their organizations through change. Without that perspective, they probably would have been unable to Belize people to do adaptive work. Getting on the balcony is thus a prerequisite for following the next five principles. Identify the Adaptive Challenge when a leopard threatens a band of chimpanzees, the leopard rarely succeeds in picking off a stray. Chimps know how to respond to this kind of threat.
But when a man with an automatic rifle comes near, the routine responses in a world of poachers unless they figure out how to disarm the new threat. Similarly, when businesses cannot learn quickly to adapt to new challenges, they are likely to face their own form of extinction. Consider the well-known case of British Airways. Having observed the BREAKTHROUGH LEADERSHIP DECEMBER 2001 133 revolutionary changes in the airline industry during the logos, then chief executive Colon Marshall clearly recognized the need to transform an airline nicknamed Bloody Awful by its own passengers into an exemplar of customer service.
He also understood that this ambition would require more than anything else changes in values, practices, and relationships throughout the company. An organization whose people clung to functional silos and valued pleasing their bosses more than pleasing customers could not become “the world’s favorite airline. Marshall needed an organization dedicated to serving people, acting on trust, respecting the individual, and making teamwork happen across boundaries. Values had to change throughout British Airways.
People had to learn to collaborate and Marshall and his team set out to diagnose in more detail the organization’s challenges. They looked in three places. First, they listened to the ideas and concerns of people inside and outside the organization – meeting with crews on flights, showing up in the 350-person reservations center in New York, wandering around the baggage-handling area in Tokyo, or visiting the passenger ounce in whatever airport they happened to be in. Their primary questions were.
Whose values, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors would have to change in order for progress to take place? What shifts in priorities, resources, and power were necessary? What sacrifices would have to be made and by whom? Second, Marshall and his team saw conflicts as clues – symptoms of adaptive challenges. The way conflicts across senior managers convey that everything is important. They overwhelm and disorient the very people need to take responsibility for the work. O develop a collective sense of responsibility for the direction and performance of he airline. Marshall identified the essential adaptive challenge; creating trust throughout the organization. He is one of the first executives we have known to make “creating trust” a priority. To lead British Airways, Marshall had to get his executive team to understand the nature of the threat created by dissatisfied customers: Did it represent a technical challenge or an adaptive challenge?
Would expert advice and technical adjustments within basic routines suffice, or would people throughout the company have to learn different ways of doing business, develop new competencies, and begin to work electively? 134 functions were being expressed were mere surface phenomena; the underlying conflicts had to be diagnosed. Disputes over seemingly technical issues such as procedures, schedules, and lines of authority were in fact proxies for underlying conflicts about values and norms.
Third, Marshall and his team held a mirror up to themselves, recognizing that they embodied the adaptive challenges facing the organization. Early in the transformation of British Airways, competing values and norms were played out on the executive team in dysfunctional ways that impaired the capacity of the est. of the company to collaborate across functions and units and make the necessary trade-offs. No executive can hide from the fact that his or her team reflects the best and the worst of the company’s values and norms, and therefore provides a case in point for insight into the nature of the adaptive work ahead.
Thus, identifying its adaptive challenge was crucial in British Airways’ bid to become the world’s favorite airline. For the strategy to succeed, the company’s leaders needed to understand themselves, their people, and the potential sources of conflict. Marshall recognized that strategy development itself requires adaptive work. Adaptive work generates distress. Before putting people to work on challenges for which there are no ready solutions, a leader must realize that people can learn only so much so fast. At the same time, they must feel the need to change as reality brings new challenges.
They cannot learn new ways when they are overwhelmed, but eliminating stress altogether removes the impetus for doing adaptive work. Because a leader must strike a delicate balance between having people feel the need to change and having them feel overwhelmed by change, leadership is a razor’s edge. A leader must attend to three fundamental tasks in order to help maintain a productive level of tension. Adhering to these tasks will allow him or her to motivate people without disabling them. First, a leader must create what can be called a holding environment.
To use the analogy of a pressure cooker, a leader needs to regulate the pressure by turning up the heat while also allowing some steam to escape. If the pressure exceeds the stacker’s capacity, the cooker can blow up. However, nothing cooks without some heat. In the early stages of a corporate change, the holding environment can be a temporary “place” in which a leader rates the conditions for diverse groups to talk to one another about the challenges facing them, to frame and debate The work of Leadership ; BEST OF HUB subtleties by clarifying business realities and key values.
A leader helps expose conflict, viewing it as the engine of creativity and learning. Finally, a leader helps the organization maintain those norms that must endure and Define problems and Identify the adaptive challenge those that need provide solutions to change. Questions and issues Third, a leader must have presence and poise; irregularities the organization Let the organization feel Eng distress is perhaps a leader’s external threats external pressures within re’s most difficult Job.
The a range it can stand pressures to restore equilibrating roles and Challenge current roles Orientation rim are enormous, Just as responsibilities and resist pressure to molecules bang hard against define new roles quickly the walls of a pressure cooker, people bang up against Managing Conflict Restore order Expose conflict or leaders who are trying to sleet it emerge taint the pressures of tough, conflict-filled work. Although Shaping Norms Challenge unproductive leadership demands a deep
Maintain norms norms understanding of the pain of change -the fears and sacrifices associated with major In the course of regulating people’s distress, a leader faces several key readjustment – it also responsibilities and may have to use ibis or her audibility differently quires the ability to hold depending on tube type of work situation. Steady and maintain the tension. Otherwise, the pressure escapes and the stimulus for issues, and to clarify the assumptions stopping other activities, or they start learning and change is lost. Behind competing perspectives and too many initiatives at the same time.
A leader has to have the emotional values. Over time, more issues can be They overwhelm and disorient the very capacity to tolerate uncertainty, frustrated in as they become ripe. At Bruit- people who need to take responsibility Zion, and pain. He has to be able to raise Sis Airways, for example, the shift from for the work. An internal focus to a customer focus Second, a leader is responsible for anxious himself. Employees as well as took place over four or five years and direction, protection, orientation, man- colleagues and customers will carefully dealt with important issues in success- aging conflict, and having norms. See observe verbal and nonverbal cues to a soon: building a credible executive team, the exhibit “Adaptive Work Calls for leader’s ability to hold steady. He needs communicating with a highly fragmented Leadership. “) Fulfilling these response- to communicate confidence that he and organization, defining new measures of abilities is also important for a manager they can tackle the tasks ahead. Performance and compensation, and in technical or routine situations. But a developing sophisticated information leader engaged in adaptive work uses Maintain Disciplined Attention systems.
During that time, employees his authority to fulfill them differently. Different people within the same organ all levels learned to identify what and A leader provides direction by identify- animation bring different experiences, how they needed to change. Ins the organization’s adaptive chalk- assumptions, values, beliefs, and habits Thus, a leader must sequence and Lange and framing the key questions to their work. This diversity is valuable pace the work. Txt) often, senior man- and issues. A leader protects people by because innovation and learning are gaggers convey that everything is import- managing the rate of change.
That is as true at the top of the organization as it is in the middle or on the front line, indeed, if the executive team cannot model adaptive work, the organization will languish. If senior managers can’t draw out and deal with divisive issues, how will people elsewhere in the organization change their behaviors and rework their relationships? As Jan Carlson, the legendary CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System (AS), told us, “One of the most interesting missions of leadership is getting people on the executive team to listen to and learn from one another. Held