Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive Leadership

Our primary task as leaders is to keep hope alive … and keep moving toward our shared vision.  Now, thanks to COVID, we once again (sigh) need to remain agile and adaptive to uncertain times.

AND we need our leadership team right there beside us … renewing hope … remaining flexible and help us adapt.

Here is an “instructional memo” you can adapt for your team.  Included are tips and tools for you … and your team … to provide adaptive leadership for the new year.

Dear Leadership Team:

These continue to be challenging times for all of us.  Might you feel, as one my colleagues, that our tank is half recharged … with only enough to make it to the next filling station!?

I can’t thank you enough for all of the hard work being done 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, share challenges and opportunities with your team.  Second, find a steady pace and take time to rest. See more below (and if you have time, in the attached Harvard Review article).

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

– Ron Heifetz and Donald Laurie.

Heifetz and Laurie, in their Harvard Business Review article, offer six ideas on how to engage our teams in challenging and UN-certain times.

Maintain Perspective:

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

Identify the Adaptive Challenge:

Mingle with your staff and other 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.

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. Manage the pace of change.

Creative Tension:

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

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.

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.

Hard Work:

Adaptive leadership is hard.  We feel compelled to shield our staff. To stand invincibly in the gap.  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.

Set a Steady Pace, Rest and Recharge

Brené Brown, in a 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!  Brené Brown’s new learning on how to cope with change: Name it; Adjust Expectations; Stay positive (this is not awful forever).  And: Rest and stay Fit.  

Bottom Line

We can’t serve others well or make good decisions when we are exhausted.  I need you.  We need you.  Your staff needs you.  Our students need you.  THANK YOU for all you do.  As we face another year of UNcertainty: Involve others, Set a steady pace, and Rest and recharge.





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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 |