Leaderships for Our TimesJanuary 29, 2010 Leave a comment
In this post I take a look at the overlap and differences between three leadership approaches to which we here at IISC regularly turn in light of our bent towards social change and beliefs about the world in which we live.
Adaptive Leadership – Most prominently mapped by Ron Heifetz, adaptive leadership is “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive.” Heifetz identifies “adaptive challenges” as those that can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties; they do not lend themselves to technical fixes. Being an adaptive leader is different then, than having authoritative (content) expertise. It is about being mindful of the bigger systemic picture and taking experimental steps to challenge and change existing structures and norms so that groups, organizations, and communities adjust to new circumstances.
Facilitative Leadership – Historically, this has been the core of what we do and teach at IISC and Interaction Associates. “FL,” as we like to call it, is an approach to leadership grounded in the question, “How do we create the conditions for self-empowerment so that people work together on a shared goal?” Facilitative leaders are interested in constructing and inspiring environments and situations where people can co-labor(ate), because they know that in certain cases more (and more diverse) minds and hands are what it will take to move things forward. The “practices” of FL are the concrete sets of tools that help to create these conditions through strategically and inclusively managing decision-making, facilitating agreements, designing processes, etc.
Network Leadership – Some might see this as a bit of a contradiction in terms. To the extent that anyone can lead a network, they help bring shared identity and intention to an array of interconnected and broadly distributed stakeholders. Leading in such a context is really about “leading between,” in the words of Paul Skidmore. It is about unleashing potential by structuring the right kinds of conversation that draw people in, establishing trust and a common language, and providing space (physical and virtual) for things to happen (emergence and self-organization).
Holding these up against one another, Adaptive Leadership stands out principally as a foundational mindset and systemic orientation toward the world, into which the collaborative skillset of Facilitative Leadership nicely fits. Network leadership is a complementary practice of seeing and mobilizing overarching and underlying patterns of relationship (within and beyond organizations) that extends reach and builds movement. All three are grounded in humility, a belief that leadership comes from more than just those with formal authority, and a shared understanding that we must reach out and go beyond command-and-control tactics and “expert” solutions to work together and meet challenges in this complex dynamic world.