Deconstructing Heifetzian Leadership

I’ve done about half of Heifetz’s Leadership on the Line, and this is my attempt at breaking it down into a few bite-sized pieces. And hey, I know people are busy and may not have enough time for the book, so this is it (Disclaimer: Use this for your exams/assignments at your own risk!):

1. We talk about leadership as something that is desirable. This is because it is not just about power and authority, it is about values. It is about mobilizing people to tackle tough problems. The book addresses leadership in terms of adaptive work, defined as the learning required to address the conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between values and reality.

2. Authority is the conferred power to perform a service. In societies with established and coherent institutions, authority is always there. In times of adaptive challenges, the role of authority is paramount.

3. Adaptive challenges are different from technical challenges-those for which the appropriate response has already been developed. Type I situations are purely technical; Type II situations are those in which the problem is definable, but with no clear-cut solution in sight. Type III situations are those in which the problem is not defined, and technical fixes are not available.

Leading With Authority

4. People in authority have powers at their disposal for mobilizing adaptive work. The following are the tools built into a framework: one, the power to provide and manage a holding environment (defined as a relationship in which one party has the power to hold the attention of another party and facilitate adaptive work); two, that to command and direct attention; three, access to information; four, to control and manage the flow of information; five, to frame the issues; and six, to orchestrate conflict and contain disorder.

5. Leadership is a razor’s edge because the leader in authority oversees a sustained period of social disequilibrium. The tools above can be arranged into the following strategic principles:

i) Identify the adaptive challenge.
ii) Keep level of distress within tolerable range for doing adaptive work.
iii) Focus attention on ripening issues, not on stress-reducing distractions.
iv) Give the work back to the people, but at a rate they can stand.
v) Protect voices of leadership without authority.

6. While his civil rights policy worked according to these principles, President Johnson’s Vietnam policy, however, showed how not to exercise leadership. Here, he played lone warrior, did not present the adaptive challenge to his people, let distress levels exceed productive levels, did not discipline attention and distribute responsibility to his people, and did not use dissent as a source of insight and options.

This is not the end, of course. It’s just where I’ve read to. Will continue as I read.

And welcome to the first post entirely done on a mobile device. 🙂

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