The Six Mindsets of Adaptive Leadership


Madston Black, a top-tier leadership development consultancy, recently engaged me to do some executive briefings on the future of business as part of some of leadership programs they are running for major Australian organizations.

For two of their major client leadership development programs, Madston Black also brought out Professor Ron Heifetz, Founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, to run workshops. They also organized two very well-attended public presentations for Ron in Sydney and Melbourne, and kindly invited me along.

Here is the video of Ron Heifetz’s Sydney presentation – while it’s an hour long it’s well worth watching for the rich insights and examples he offered on adaptive leadership (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership is his latest book).

Professor Ronald Heifetz Adaptive Leadership Presentation from Jimmy Tsang on Vimeo.

There were two take-outs from his talk which particularly struck me.

The first is his distinction between Technical and Adaptive work, and its importance to leaders. Many leaders have technical skills in dealing with problems and issues that arise or already exist. However once the technical work has been done, the focus must shift to adaptive work which focuses on shifting the organization to a shape that is meaningful and relevant to a changing environment. Recognizing which of these capabilities is relevant in a particular situation or stage is critical.

The other was the Six Mindsets of Adaptive Leadership that Ron offered (below together with my brief interpretations):

Conserves Essential Values and Capacities. Recognizes what is valuable and worth keeping, while adapting what needs to change.

Experiments Pervasively. Everything is open for trial, error, and success (a theme I have placed at the center of my Enterprise 2.0 framework).

Scans 360 for New Challenges. While this can be implemented into formal ‘environmental scanning’ processes, it is definitely a way of thinking rather than a process.

Improvises Responsively. It is definitely about fast-paced improvisation, which requires taking a lifetime of experience and bringing it together to respond to unique new circumstances.

Models Consistent Orienting Values. While consistent values are the only thing that can be an organization coherent under stress, values can only be really understood in practice. Showing what values mean by their real-life expression is invaluable; wall-charts with lists of values are empty words.

Takes Losses. Accepts that change entails loss as well as gain, and that you have to move on from the past to create the future. Moves beyond the emotional attachment to the sunk costs of where you have been to get to a place where you can make something new.

It was the first time I’d come across Heifetz’s work. The experience it embodies makes it powerful – definitely tap into it if you can.