Skills for Leading the Fall

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    The book I find most useful during Adaptive Change is The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ron Heifetz, Alex Grashow, and Marty Linsky.

    When Destabilizing Events arise our first response is to act, and in some cases this is the best response. But those cases are actually rare. In order to truly understand the adaptive potential of the situation so that you can emerge from the change with a better system design, leaders need to begin the journey in reflection (pp 44). Go slow at the beginning so you can go fast at the end.

    There is much to reflect on during the Fall. And getting this first phase of the change cycle “right” is essential to the whole journey – it sets the tone and the mood of the entire organization. Therefore, I start with Part 4 of the book – See Yourself as a System.

    Beginning here emphasizes that everyone is a system and leaders must work within a system of systems. Leaders who begin Adaptive Change by acknowledging their own personal learning agenda have a leg up on those that plunge in and begin to direct the action. The more open you are to your learning the faster you can move from the Balcony to the Practice Field, the better you model the learning cycle for others, and the greater your ability to adapt in real time. There are many learning cycles in the literature, but I have developed and use a very simple one that contains only three phases: Self-Awareness, Self-Discipline, and Self-Direction.

    Self-Awareness: This combines taking the observer role with situational and personal insights to understand the forces acting around you and within you. Self-Awareness requires you to be emotionally and mentally available to yourself and how you are interpreting and behaving in the moment.

    Self-Discipline: It is not enough to just observe the systems around you – you need the discipline to be “who” you need to be to deliver the change you seek. This means being present, understanding the roles you can assume to drive the “Big Picture of the Moment.[1]”

    Self-Directed: When you understand the roles you are playing in the moment you can direct the action, taking it where it needs to go in the present situation. At this point you are an observer of the larger system, again moving between the Balcony and the Playing Field and integrating what you learn for the “whole system” that you are working with.

    Like the toggle switch on your computer, this cycle – Self-Awareness- Self-Discipline- Self-Direction – moves you from the system of self to the larger system and back to the system of self. The faster you can move through this cycle the more present, reflective, and adaptive you can be.


    Karl Weich and Kathleen Sutcliffe, Managing the Unexpected, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2007.