Sept. 17, 2018

Courage – a center piece of adaptive leadership

That is a gross simplification, but I need to pull out a critical point. So bear with me.

This is a post about my reflection after two-day training with Adaptive Leadership with other 20 fellows. But first, let start with some definition so that we are can frame the issue; otherwise, we will loose our path in a loose sand. I wrote another post about the same topic about the courage and adaptive leadership.

Let start with a definition of courage:

courage ˈkər-ij,ˈkə-rij: : mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Origin: Middle English corage, from Anglo-French curage, from quer, coer heart, from Latin cor
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

and here is a quote from Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz & Linsky:

The most difficult work of leadership involves learning to experience distress without numbing yourself. The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through moments of despair.
paged 227, Leadership on the Line. (Thank to Mr. Tr, our TA at the class)

Firstly, a question could be: what is the adaptive leadership? And why we need another brand of leadership? More categorizing means more confusing to general audience, and more distance between fractions of each type of leadership. Searching on Google returns you between 5-12 types of leadership, and Wikipedia lists 6 styles by 2018. One similarity of the 6 styles is the assumption of granted authority to the leader, and in this instance, the leadership is the leaders who do the work of leading. Other authoritative source is Harvard Business Review with 8 styles that describe the difference of each type on the nuance of leading with the granted authority.

a : power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior the president's authority
b : freedom granted by one in authority : right Who gave you the authority to do as you wish?
1 : the office or position of a leader recently assumed the leadership of the company
2 : capacity to lead a politician who lacks leadership
3 : the act or an instance of leading

The adaptive leadership while shares the feature of leading focus on the second the third definition above. That is someone does the work of leading without or insufficient authority to lead. And because of a lower starting point and lack of resource, the process of adaptive of leadership involves more stakeholders consultation, mobilize resources and balance to risk/benefits of taking action.

The first point I get from the training is the translation of leadership and authority into Vietnamese can spell struggles. The first time I heard about the term leadership, I connected the term to the work to the leader (to make change and improvement). I interpreted leadership as the work of leader to lead and direct the team or organization.

In addition, a higher authority does not mean more leading work; the constraints of a higher authority position can be tied to time, conflicting interest from multiple stake-holders, more things to loss than gain. Even physical condition and daily managing duties could hamper their ability to escape the view “on the floor” and reevaluate the situation by a view “on the balcony”. The pros of leading with a high authority is the authority itself, the right to work or mobilize resource, more networking and information. This advantage could be summarized as a stronger force to strike or multiple tools/sources to lead.

The lower and not having formal authority roles seem to have less power to do leadership work. They cannot direct people or mobilize resource, lack of experience of leading, more stuck in technical work or the “dance floor”. However, they are more energetic, younger, and have more to gain than loss, and know some truths on the dance floor.

So what does it take to do leadership?

Many, I supposed. Here is my recollection.

1. Figure out if the problem is technical or adaptive or both. A quick answer: Most of them it is both or even ‘undecided’ because of insufficient information

2. Draw a stakeholder map: who involves,

3. Redefine your adaptive challenges: what you are trying to do, and how that connect your values, loyalties, and losses (VLL) and the VLL of the institution and of the most authority role.

4. Diagnose the system: what you trying to solve, and what the VLL of other stakeholders with the implementation the change you are about to propose.

5. What would be the task or intervention you should do?

6. Holding the dynamic of learning and experiment in the acceptable range called holding environment.

Source: Internet 

The last one is striking to me. No one likes to rock the ship and faces daily attempt to dismiss (referred as assassinates) and undermine the change. The risks are not just estimating, but they are one the table and tangible to you. The temptation of pull off the change or keep moving forward with the status-quote (aka: same old-old) and don't fix the thing don't (not yet) break are the test to courage of the change agent – the one who do the leadership work.

All right, below are my reflection:

I am positive that the class experienced a different learning environment thank to the instructors at the class, Sandy Dang from VEF, Dr. Bao Le, and Trung Tran. To be specific, an environment encourages chaos, self-organize and democratic at making decision in a large group of about 20 strong-will individuals. A written instruction written on the board: “Group discussion for a purpose of the 2-day training”. No instructors were talking and even posed an indifferent facial expression. The level of chaotic at first seemed intense because it was unexpected and abnormal. There were different opinions, and suggestion to break-out into smaller groups so that it is easier to arrive at a decision or conclusion. One person opposed smaller group and insisted to stay on with the larger group. The atmosphere then was a learning moment, a look after the instructor debriefed the class. Three things noted from this change of class atmosphere:

  1. Everyone expressed dismay and confuse at the change of the learning atmosphere

2. Tendency to break into smaller group to get consensus and fulfill the requirement,

3. Quickly showed disengagement by sitting silent, going to bathroom, chit-chat with others

More importantly, these tendencies were not obvious to the participants or those on the dance floor but they were clear to the instructors who played to the role of observer or watching from the balcony.

Another reflection critical personally is the direction of the discussion. When we discussed the case consultation, almost ideas were trying to help and for the adaptive challenges. Very few ideas questioned to change proposed, and almost none dismissed or against the change. One way to explain is everyone was learning, there was no loss at stake, so why not to be nice, and helpful, and please, please, don't turn yourself to the minor in the group. The latter is a conscious decision while the first one could be attributed to lack of critical thinking. The experience I have two-day training cannot be more different to the Industrial Ecology class I took in 2010 at ASU. The classmates came from diverse background: engineering, planning, policy, economics. Most sessions had back-and-forth discussion on disagreement with 3-4 follow-ups. At first, I thought this is chaotic and why the instructor does not intervene? I was fresh to the U.S. and was accustomed to Vietnamese norms. Later, I watched debates between for and against religion and climate change plus U.S. Senate session, and still shocked because of the head-on disagreement. In the discussion of for and against, the moderator sat quietly and only asked leading questions, or clarified if anyone had further point.

And to make that point above, I did leave out this. The discussion in the U.S.'s class was also helpful and constructive. The classmates discussed with a good intention, and mostly for the idea being proposed. If there was an against idea, they seemed to curious and accepted as this challenge is a part of a normal discussion. If the class did not raise a counter-challenge idea, the facilitator then asked an open question on the against side. With the intervention of the authority figure, unexpectedly, someone sitting silent got some courage to speak out, presented a fresh look at the problem on the other side.

I am not going to attempt to judge to difference between the two. This time I am not have the courage to do because there is no much gain for me, and if I do so, there is going to be a big wind blows to my face. I am afraid of the wind, you know.

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