Heifetz (Lefty) & Linsky (Unknown, so probably not) on Surviving the Dangers of Leadership


Here at the halfway point of the Heifetz Leadership class, a summary of the key points lifted from part of this excellent book.  I pray all in the class will reflect well and be fine over this weekend.  I pray the Lord bless my classmates with great, life-changing insights from the rest of this class, so we can go out there and change the world, each a little bit.  I also pray we enhance the capacity to return the burdens to our ancestors, and not pass on any to our descendants.

The Challenge

Leadership is dangerous because in adaptive situations, people look to their leaders for answers when the answers actually lie with themselves. The initial challenge, and risk, of leadership is to go beyond your authority—to put your credibility and position on the line in order to get people to tackle the problems at hand.  There must be a willingness to challenge people’s expectations of you.  Resistance from the people comes from the prospect of loss—of values, habits, attitudes, etc.

Four forms of danger face the leader:

  • Marginalization – “carrying” a specific issue, colluding with the marginalizers, personalization.
  • Diversion – moving or diluting the leader’s focus, getting swamped by work.
  • Attack – physical attack, character attack, misrepresentation, as a result turning the subject of conversation away from the real issue.
  •  Seduction – causing the leader to lose his sense of purpose, e.g. desire for the approval of one’s own faction, leading to one “carrying” a specific issue (see Marginalization)

Responding to Danger

Get off the dance floor and get on the balcony.  Distance yourself from the fray to get a clearer view and the bigger picture.  To get beyond your own blind spots, use these diagnostics:

  • Distinguish technical from adaptive challenges
    • When people’s hearts and minds need to change
    • Problem persist despite technical fixes
    • Conflict persists
    • Occurrence of crises
  • Find out where people are at – learn people’s perspectives.
  • Listen to the song beneath the words – interpret people’s words correctly, get the intentions behind the words. Don’t just process the literal message.
  •  Read the behavior of the authority figure for clues. The authority reacts to all factions in the organization.  Assess where he stands on the issues you have raised. A cooling attitude reflects the resistance of the organization to your initiative.

Think Politically, invest in personal relationships.

  • Find Partners—people inside and outside the organization who share your goals.
  • Keep the Opposition Close—work with your opponents, not just your supporters.
  • Accept Responsibility for Your Piece of the Mess.  You may be the one who needs to change.
  • Acknowledge the People’s Loss.  When you ask people to change, you are asking that they give up something precious.
  • Model the behavior.  Lead by example.
  • Accept Casualties.  If people cannot adapt, they will be left behind. Accepting casualties signals the leader’s commitment

Orchestrate the Conflict.  The challenge is to work with differences, passions and conflicts in a way that constructively harnesses their energy.  Ideas to orchestrate the conflict:

  • Create holding environment—to contain and adjust the heat generated by addressing difficult issues
  • Control the temperature—raise the heat enough that people take action, and lower the temperature to reduce a counterproductive level of tension
  • Pace the work—people can only stand so much change at any one time
  • Show them the future—remind people of the positive vision that makes the current angst worthwhile

Give the Work Back.  When one takes on the issue, one becomes the issue.

  • Take the work off your shoulders and challenge your people’s expectations of you.
  • Place the work where it belongs, because the relevant parties need to resolve the issues in order to have lasting progress.
  • Make your interventions short and simple, by making observations, asking questions, offering interpretations and taking tangible actions

Hold Steady and maintain your poise so you can plan future actions.

  • Take the heat and receive others’ anger in a way that does not undermine your initiative.
  • Let the issues ripen.  Hold off before addressing the issue, or ripen the issue so it can be addressed earlier.
  • Focus on the real issue the attentions of those who need to change.