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The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership


Authors: Ronald Heifitz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow

Publisher: Harvard Business Press


The Practice of Adaptive Leadership gives experienced leaders a language for capturing the complexities of their world, a framework for understanding their challenges, and tactics for intervening on those challenges. It builds on the authors' previous work Leadership Without Easy Answers, and leaders and executive coaches should add this new book to their collections.

Readers unfamiliar with the authors will find the first section of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership particularly helpful as it provides a thorough grounding in the theory behind the practice. Adaptive leadership is "the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive." Adaptive challenges (which can only be addressed through changes in people's priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties) are contrasted with technical challenges (which may be complex, but can be solved by applying current know-how). Experienced leaders have their share of both, of course, but technical challenges simply call for resources and time, whereas adaptive challenges call for courage and skill.

This book is devoted to diagnosing and acting on adaptive challenges, explored first at the organization level and then at the personal level. While the book has a linear sequence, I took the authors' suggestion and browsed sections of the book with a particular challenge in mind. I noted their belief that diagnosis is the single most important leadership skill and often the most undervalued capacity, and I found several concepts very useful as I thought about my particular situation. Their metaphor of "getting on the balcony" to observe the system in action and their section on organizational archetypes were particularly helpful. Their notion of orchestrating the conflict that comes with adaptive change reminded me of the inevitability of conflict--not to be avoided, but to be worked through as an essential step toward real harmony.

"You are a system as complex as the one you are trying to move forward" claim the authors as they examine diagnosing and acting en adaptive challenges at a personal level. Again, I found myself moving around the book for the most relevant content.

This "field book" provides ideas, resources, practices and examples to guide adaptive leadership work in any context. But don't expect a series of step-by-step recipes for success. The authors' refusal to settle for simplistic answers is precisely why this book is so useful. They correctly posit that leadership is an art, not a science, and suggest that the practices described in the book be seen as sources of learning and disciplined experiments, not as simple formulas to follow.

The authors remind us "leadership demands inspiration and perspiration." So does the development of an important contribution to our understanding of effective leadership. For over a decade, the authors have committed to the hard work of exploring new leadership territory informed by careful thought and their experience in the classroom and boardroom. They deserve our gratitude.

Reviewer: Larry Voeller, senior director, Talent Management, St. Jude Medical, Inc.

**** A Must Read

*** Worthwhile

** Skin It Over

* Bottom of the Stack
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Author:Voeller, Larry
Publication:People & Strategy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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