Lean into Adaptive Leadership

Posted on June 14, 2018
By Liz Weaver

learners working with post itsMany of us shy away from using the power that we have, often to our own and our community’s detriment. This was one of the nuggets of wisdom shared with the participants attending Tamarack's Adaptive Leadership Masterclass series that took us to five cities across Canada and wrapped up just last week. Liz Skelton, Co-Founder of Collaboration for Impact shared a story about working with Indigenous leaders in Australia. It was there that she discovered that leaning into her formal and informal power could be used to help the collaborative group drive change forward.

There are four types of power which we can access. Positional and social power are more formal, we gain these through an earned position or we are born into this status. Personal and spiritual power are informal and reside in our essence.   

  • Positional Power: Power that comes from a position within a specific system
  • Social (or unearned) Power: Power that we are born with or into
  • Personal Power: Power that comes from life experience
  • Spiritual Power: Power that comes from being connected to something greater

In adaptive leadership, we need to learn to balance the ingredients of leadership, authority and power to move forward complex community challenges. There are times when we need to exercise our authority, especially if an issue is stuck and other times when stepping back in our leadership might be required. This interplay of leadership, authority and power requires us to use our adaptive capacity, to be both engaged in the work, but also to watch how the work is unfolding so that we can see the patterns that are emerging. Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky, in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership describe this as being both on the dance floor and on the balcony.  Adaptive leadership requires both. 

Tackling complex issues is challenging. Liz Skelton identified that systems are ‘ruthless recruiters of the status quo’. Systems don’t easily embrace change. If we look at ourselves as human systems, many of us eat the same food, drive the same routes to work each day, wear the same clothes, and repeat these patterns for 80% of what we do. To disrupt systems, we first have to disrupt our selves. We have to lean into our adaptive capacity and build our leadership muscle. Liz Skelton helped us understand that adaptive change is possible, but only if we begin with ourselves.    

To learn more about adaptive leadership: 

Liz Weaver, Leadership, Blog, Liz Skelton, Masterclass

Liz Weaver

By Liz Weaver

Liz is passionate about the power and potential of communities getting to impact on complex issues. Liz is Tamarack’s Co-CEO and Director, Learning Centre. In this role she provides strategic direction to the organization and leads many of its key learning activities including collective impact capacity building services for the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Liz is one of Tamarack's highly regarded trainers and has developed and delivered curriculum on a variety of workshop topics including collaborative governance, leadership, collective impact, community innovation, influencing policy change and social media for impact and engagement.

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