Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Leadership on the Line by Heifetz and Linsky – A Proactive Report

The nature of a proactive report is that you go into the book with a few questions that you hope to answer.  It starts with an overview of the book, then a set of questions and finishes with a summary and synthesis.  So here are my thoughts on Leadership on the Line.

Overview
Heifetz and Linsky in Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, not only encourage us to put our life and ideas on the line, but they remind us of the dangers of leadership and how to respond to the risks in healthy ways. They don’t just answer the question of how to lead; they call us to think about why we should lead. They help us to see that while leading has its demands and costs, leading has the potential to enrich many lives, including the life of those who choose to lead. Because Heifetz and Linsky are fully aware of the scars one gets when in leadership, they help us to anchor our hearts and strengthen our souls so that we can stay alive to celebrate the meaning of our efforts.

Proactive Questions
1. What is the difference between technical leadership and adaptive leadership and why is it important to know the difference?

Technical leadership is about using the skills and procedures that we are aware of to solve current problems and is typically accomplished by those in authority. Adaptive leadership is having the guts and heart to learn new ways to bring needed deep transformation of culture in an organization or people and is generally done by the people with the problem (14,15). “Adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people’s habits, beliefs and values (30). The reason that it is important to know the difference between these kinds of leadership is because “the single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify – in politics, community life, business or the non-profit sector – is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems (14).

2. What are the different faces of danger a leader might face and how can they best respond to those dangers?

There are many different faces of danger that an adaptive leader might face, though they are variations of four primary forms. Seduction, marginalization, diversion and outright attack are all ways that people seek to resist the adaptive leaders work in seeing the painful changes that need to take place. Here are some skills needed to respond to the resistance and dangers of adaptive leadership:

  • Get on the Balcony – this involves moving back and forth from the balcony (a place to engage in self-reflection to gain perspective) and the dance floor (the place of action).
  • Think Politically – relating to people in a way to lead through adaptive change. This involves developing allies, keeping the opposition (those most negatively effected by change) close, and gaining trust with those who are uncommitted to the change.
  • Orchestrate the Conflict – it’s about cultivating an environment where passionate disagreement is permissible while keeping control of the temperature; remembering that the job of the adaptive leader is to orchestrate the conflict, not become it (122).
  • Give the Work Back – you “stay alive in leadership by reducing the extent to which you become the target of people’s frustrations” (139). It’s thinking constantly about intervening in a timely and responsible way, by allowing the right people to take responsibility.
  • Hold Steady – in the midst of the pressure and heat that comes with the implementation of adaptive change, one needs to hold their poise by taking the heat, letting the issues ripen and keeping a focus on the issues.

3. What are some important ways to keep heart when facing the difficulties and stress of leadership?

  • Manage Your Hungers – of power and control, affirmation and importance, and intimacy and delight.
  • Anchor Yourself – by distinguishing role from self, keeping confidants and not confusing them with allies, and seeking sanctuary.
  • What’s On the Line – asking the question: Why lead? And remembering that leadership is a labor of love for others.
  • Sacred Heart – keeping an innocent, curious and compassionate heart through the hurts and scars of leading by finding ways to refresh your body and spirit.

Summary and Synthesis
It is clear that Heifetz and Linsky are aware of the dangers that adaptive leaders face and they give us both encouragement and practical wisdom in reducing the risk of being taken out of the game either because of the manipulation of others or by the lack of soul care ourselves. This book is for those who have the guts to lead in ways to see genuine transformation take place. I plan to feed on the wisdom of this book for sometime, so that I might stay alive through the battle as well as pass on the lessons I’m learning in the process. This is a must read and re-read for those who want to see meaningful change take place in a culture from the inside out.


5 Responses to Leadership on the Line by Heifetz and Linsky – A Proactive Report

  1. This is a very cool way to share this info. Bravo!

    I recently went back and re-read this myself, and found it helpful. It can be hard to stay focused on these principles when you are being “nibbled to death by ducks,” as some of my colleagues put it, in an organization. It’s a good reminder to take time to be strategic and re-focus on the giant squids.

  2. JR Woodward says:

    Jennifer,

    I hear you. I hope your focusing on the squids brings some good fruit. Good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  3. Hey JR, really good overview, summary and synthesis. We’d like to add to the synthesis by highlighting that recent neuroscience has uncovered evidence that we have complex and functional ‘brains’ or neural networks in our heart and guts, and 2 years of behavioral modeling research by ourselves has shown that these centers of intelligence are deeply involved in some key core competencies that are highly relevant to adaptive leadership.

    Indeed, both Heifetz and Linsky and your own synthesis indicate the importance of both the heart and gut in adaptive leadership. “Adaptive leadership is having the guts and heart to learn new ways to bring needed deep transformation of culture in an organization…”, “Manage Your Hungers – of power and control…”, “Sacred Heart – keeping an innocent, curious and compassionate heart ” are all powerful indicators of how we need to use the wisdom, intelligence and intuitions of the heart and gut (enteric) brains. If you are interested in the models and concepts of our work on this, please check out our recently launched book entitled ‘mBraining’ (see http://www.mbraining.com ) that details the science behind how our multiple brains work and communicate and how to harness and align them. We are currently working on the applications of this to adaptive leadership.

    best wishes, Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu

  4. JR Woodward says:

    Marvin and Grant,

    Thanks for dropping by. Looks like a fascinating book. Peace.

  5. Pingback: My Top Ten Books on Leadership | Exponential

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