Saturday, November 9, 2019

Leaders embrace adaptive challenges

When I obtained a master's in education and a credential in California school administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the first book assigned was Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky.

I don't think it's possible to leave Dominguez's program without understanding the concept of "getting on the balcony." If anything ever gets hairy in leadership, one key tactic is to go on the balcony, look at the big picture, soak it in and then make a decision.

Too often, leaders get hung up on details or lose sight of the organization's goals, so critical mistakes can be made. A true leader not only survives with difficult situations, but thrives.

Perhaps the bigger lesson of Leadership on the Line (2002) is that leaders face two distinct issues — technical problems and adaptive challenges. Often, these two issues are misdiagnosed or not understood. A technical problem is something that can be solved by experts, while an adaptive challenge requires new learning.

I immediately was drawn to adaptive challenges because I believe those are more difficult in which savvy leaders are crucial. Schools face both issues, and I've gotten frustrated with schools failing to understand and address adaptive challenges. If, or when, I plunge into school leadership, I can't wait to tackle adaptive challenge, but first things first, building a strong functioning team is the actual first step.
In addition to getting on the balcony and seeing the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenge, other keys that come out in Leadership on the Line are that we must constantly build relationships, orchestrate conflict, delegate while helping and then hold steady.

These basics are the trunk to the leadership tree. One thing I have noticed is that in high-profile leadership positions, a leader's personal or personality issues are on display for all. So a truly strong leader accepts this and commits to constant self-improvement. If not, then the individual will stay stagnant, as will the organization.

It's been a fun ride for me since I read this book, earned another master's and qualified myself to be a California public-school administrator. I have grown more than I imagined and am feeling happier than ever.

For anyone who has been on a strong functioning team, it feels exhilarating. Unfortunately, if you happen to be on a weak functioning, well, that can be draining. For all team members, remember: "Get on the balcony!"

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