Sunday, March 16, 2014

4th in a Series on Change: Survival Guide for Leaders by Heifetz & Linsky

This article especially resonated as the right leaders must survive if we are to survive.  Our survival is threatened when too many shy away from leadership because they are afraid they cannot, or will not survive. 

The author talks about leadership as “living dangerously”. The leader is always subject to being taken out, removed or set aside, thus the need for such a guide. 

The author asks us to remember that the hazard of leadership which is leaders are asking followers to give up what is dear to them. This was a slap in the side of the head for me! Though true, I had never thought about it this way. As a result, I cultivate new compassion for those we are asking to lead change. I cultivate like compassion for those who undercut change in the name of order, familiarity, security and protection. The author admonishes leaders to pay close attention to the losses, dashed expectations and feelings of incompetence and disloyalty their staff struggle with as part of change. This attention is critical to empathic leadership which balances tough calls with acknowledgment of pain and loss.

I really dug the distinction the author makes between technical change (involving objects and processes) and adaptive change (involving people and their mindsets & practices). The latter is the more challenging and that most change projects fail as they mistake adaptive, for technical, change. We go for the easier task of changing the technical and paying too little attention to how the more challenging human element.
The author goes on to talk about the common hazards change leaders face, and must be equipped to address if they are to survive. They are:

1. Character or style attacks as these are often effective (for the opposition)  as a distraction from the issue or opportunity at hand

2. Marginalization where the leader is so identified with a narrow set of issues that their broader authority is undermined  

3. Seduction by need for approval which causes the leader to hedge on asking for sufficient sacrifice and accountability from their followers and stakeholders

4. Diversion due to overwhelm with too many, or too disparate, priorities which is effective in diluting focus and critical mass of effort.

As leaders we all struggle with these hazards and have or are being threatened by them all the time. 


The author contends that resisting sabotage requires environmental management and self management. One might term these the outer and the inner game.

Environmental Management, or the outer game, involves:

1. Operating in and above the fray where the leader is both able to be in the situation as participant, and apart from it as observer, providing the ability to simultaneously act in and upon the change situation. 

2. Courting the uncommitted where the leader is influential in bring people along and around to the change they envision. I especially like the authors suggestion that leader have coffee weekly with their detractors. Talk about jumping into the lion’s jaws rather than avoiding it.

3. Cooking the conflict where the leader wisely gauges the organization’s need for turned up heat to get action, versus a cool down period to avoid burn out or burn up

4. Placing work where it belongs where the leader leaves problem resolution and opportunity capitalization to the troops, and avoids an over-reliance on leadership and the corresponding contempt it can engender. Ultimately, the leader has to move people to take up the message without being the assassinated messenger. 

Self Management, or the inner game, involves:
1. Restraining the need for control and importance in order to avoid ego trip(up)s and instead facilitate structure and process that channel energy into change.

2. Self-anchoring with:
     a) psychological repair & moral recalibration which acknowledged that the leadership game by its nature inflicts wounds and erodes one’s moral compass, the effects of which we see regularly in the news.
     b) a confidant to maintain external perspective and accountability, and
     c) role detachment so that the leader understands that the role of leader is just that, and not one’s true self.

The author asserts that leadership tempts one to become insulated from life with cynicism, arrogance and callousness, and that observing these points of management are ways to engage as a leader while avoiding this latter fate. I love the author's rubric which encourages daily reflection, repair, renewal and recalibration in every leader.

Upon reading this article, one might be tempted to avoid leadership because of its multiple risks but the author asserts that the risk is worth it for the reward of the positive difference that leaders stand to bring into the world. In other words, “no pain, no joy”.

May we all survive well as leaders, and support our leader's survival as followers.

1 comment:

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