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Adaptive Leadership

I am always looking for a good book.  Few years ago, I was introduced to a very valuable and practical leadership book.  The book was entitled, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World written by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, & Marty Linsky. The authors discusses adaptive leadership and the application of the necessary knowledge and skills for change.  When a leader recognizes that a system is not working, it must be diagnosed and challenged to initiate change.  The authors established four tips: Don’t do it alone; Live life as a leadership laboratory; Resist leaping into action; and Discover the joy of making hard choices.   These four practical tips transformed my life as a leader in any given leadership situation.

 As a deaf leader, it is very easy to fall into a trap of feeling obligated when confronted with the deaf community’s pleas for direction and advocacy; witnessing the obvious injustices and feeling  fired with passion to improve quality of lives.  I may be ready.  However, the deaf community and our opponents may not be ready.  It is tempting to go forth and make change.  “Don’t do it alone.”  The danger is not being alone but feeling alone in your leadership efforts.  I learned that it is vital to share and prepare the leadership challenges and successes with your fellow team members. Always remember, it takes two to tango.

The second tip stated “Live life as a leadership laboratory.”  The opportunities to practice, apply and share leadership knowledge occurs every day.  I realized that they are with me everywhere I go – workplace, home, my son’s soccer board; community volunteer activities, and more.  I realize that each of these opportunities will enhance my ability to recognize valuable leadership opportunities, as well as to try things out, make mistakes, strengthen my skills and find joy in leadership work.   Not only finding joy; but the frustrations and disappointments as well.  It is rather difficult to remain objective when you are in the center of the drama.  But keeping that in the back of your mind will only help you develop the ability to see the big picture.

I have reminded myself countless times to take the time to pause and reflect.  Be mindful of my urge to do something about it immediately.  “Resist action.” A leader takes the time to diagnose the issue and anticipate the response.  Waiting can be uncomfortable.  It is highly likely that once the diagnosis is confirmed, the pot will be stirred; changing minds will be required and resistance will occur.  The most important lesson I gained from this tip is that I need to give myself the license to assess my own skills and to determine whether I am the right person to intervene or if someone else would have better chance of success. As an adaptive leader, I will conduct an inventory of the risks to myself and my organization.  Then I ask myself, “Are the rewards worth the risks?  What am I going to do about it?”

“Discovering the joy of making hard choices” seems like a contradiction.  However, leadership is like a two-sided coin.  One side signifies the act of leading to influence and create change for the purpose of betterment in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing or any other cause.  It is a commitment.  It is a joy to witness the positive outcomes from our benefactors.  The other side signifies adaption and giving up something to lead the change.  As a leader, I may have to let go of my original idea or plan in order to accomplish a positive outcome.  It also means that I need to make a challenging adaptation to myself and my leadership.  This awareness gives me the opportunity to decide to lead or not to lead. This is a tremendous personal growth and awareness experience.

As an evolving deaf leader, I learn to adapt to various situations and look for leadership tools to increase my positive outcomes. I hope these tips provide you the tools for great successes as a leader.  Good luck!

(Heifetz, R., Grashow, A. & Linsky, M. (2009).  The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.  Harvard Business Press)

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