Supporting our Staff through Adaptive Leadership

Lessons Learned – Supporting our Staff through Adaptive Leadership

Instructional Memos

Use instructional memos to inform, instruct and inspire.  Here is an example.

Dear Leadership Team

RE: Adaptive Leadership 2.0

These are definitely challenging times for all of us.  I can’t thank you enough for all of the hard work you have been doing to help us get kids back in school.  I know it is super hard and requires a ton of decisions, problem solving and encouragement. At the same time, it is so important to have our kids back with us.  We are working on a great cause.  It is worth it.  Thank you!

Let me offer two big ideas on how we survive and thrive.  First, find time to rest.  Second, share challenges and opportunities with your team.  See more below (and if you have time, in the attached Harvard Review article).  We’ll discuss coping skills and adaptive leadership a bit at our next meeting.


Brené Brown’s recent podcast dealt with this issue of how we cope.  She pointed out that our brains do indeed get tired when we are under constant stress.  Chess masters burn up to 6000 calories a day … playing chess!  No wonder we get tired when we are stressed!  Her new learning … in addition to skills similar to those listed below … was that we need to Rest and Recharge!


Heifetz and Laurie, in their Harvard Business Review article, tell us to engage our teams.

Adaptive challenges … require the involvement of people throughout your organization.

They offer six ideas on how to engage our teams in challenging and UN-certain times.

1. Maintain Perspective

Look at the big picture (from the balcony).  Avoid spending too much time in the details (dance floor).  Look for patterns and issues that need to be addressed.

2. Identify the Adaptive Challenge

Mingle with stakeholders.  Ask tough questions. Listen.  Brené Brown says, name it.  If fear is the major concern, say so.  Put it on the table.  Don’t hide it.  You can’t fix it if you can’t find it or talk about it.

3. Focus

Focus on a few issues at a time.  Work the process.  Stay calm. Engage stakeholders in the discussion.    Sort out the key values.  Then set direction.

4. Creative Tension

Set the stage for deep discussion.  Keep people positive.  Work hard on the problems … not blaming, shaming, or scapegoating.  Seek collaboration.  How can we make this better … together?

5. Give work back to employees

Help the group solve the problems of the group.  Leverage the wisdom of the group. Express confidence in the wisdom of the group.  Find work people can do … and praise them for doing it.

6. Fight for Feedback

Seek out feedback.  Ask for feedback.  Thank people for feedback.  Only by surfacing the tough issues can we begin to work our way through them.  Diverse points of view make for better solutions.

Bottom Line

Adaptive leadership is tough for all of us.  Staff will beg us to make tough decisions … and then often turn on us when we do.  Keep asking tough questions, getting all perspectives on the table, facilitating the best “wisdom of the group”.  Adaptive challenges require the involvement of people.

And, as Brené Brown encourages us: Rest and stay Fit.

Thank you, again, for your incredible work.  I am proud to work with you on behalf of our kids.

PS: Read the attached article and come prepared to our next meeting to share which ONE of these adaptive leadership approaches you have used this month to increase belonging and share the load. 

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Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: | 425-418-4398 |