TECHNICAL vs. ADAPTIVE LEADERSHIP: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN   Leave a comment

Yesterday I attended a book club session at my day job. The book we’re studying is Implementing the Findings of Research: Bridging the Gap Between Knowledge and Practice by Frances Wallace and her colleagues. Central questions for the discussion focused on the differences between authority and leadership, as well as the difference between technical and adaptive problems, solutions and leadership. For a short explanation of the latter, watch this vid with Dr. Ronald Heifetz …

I love this topic because it directly relates to asking oneself “Can I make good decisions when I need to? For myself? For others?” These are key questions anyone who is preparing to be a highly functional member of a team, or to be a highly functional leader of a team. I made a few points in our group discussion that I would like to share with you:

1. A highly effective team must always be adaptive because change is the fundamental nature of reality. It must be established as a norm for the team through good leadership.

2. There is no “or” — every technical problem also has an adaptive problem to look at as well.

3. Just because you have a technical solution, doesn’t mean you’ve fixed the adaptive problem.

4. Just becuase you have an adaptive solution, doesn’t mean you don’t need an immediate technical one.

5. A good system has a bridge between technical and adaptive processes, where every technical process includes time and space for thinking about the adaptive challenge.

6. The concrete simple example of a technical process for adaptive thinking is the Army After Action Review (AAR). See Army Training Circular 25-20 by clicking HERE. I would also note that the basic questions of the AAR work well at the personal level as well! The questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What did we (I) learn? What will we (I) do differently next time?

7. Paradox: Establishing team adaptivity and flexibility is supported by firmly established team identity, tradition and legacy.

We also discussed the times when a leader needs to “reset” a team and an operation. Coincidentally, I am reading a great book right now by Robert Needham (Navy SEAL) entitled Team Secrets of the Navy SEALs (a bargain at $6, mine is already filled with highlighting and notes). Our discussion of leadership nestles in well with page 5 of Needham’s book:

“If you [and your team] suddenly find that you’re in over your head, you had better sprout gills and come up with a way to complete the task properly [that’s adaptive]. If you need to reset, do so after careful consideration of the consequences and after developing other possible solutions. Simply throwing your hands in the air…like you, well, just don’t care is admitting defeat and quitting.”

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Posted August 24, 2012 by Tom Delaney in Army, Heroes of Tomorrow, Leadership, Navy, SEALs, Stew Smith

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