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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through The Dangers of Leading

Notes taken from the book authored by Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linskey.

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Thank you to the authors for creating a work so enduring and so enlightening. Even after 12 years, the message in this piece still rings true.

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Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through The Dangers of Leading

  1. 1. LEADERSHIP ON THE LINE Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading
  2. 2. INTRODUCTION  Every day you have the chance to make a difference in the lives of others.  This is the essence of leadership; but to lead is to live dangerously.  Yet leadership, while perilous, is worth the cost.  Three Part Program  Part One: Leadership is dangerous (The Challenge)  Part Two: Protect and Defend (The Response)  Part Three: Strength and Honor (Body and Soul)
  3. 3. PART ONE Leadership is Dangerous (The Challenge)
  4. 4. THE HEART OF DANGER Chapter 1
  5. 5. THE HEART OF DANGER  Leadership is dangerous.  People do not resist change, people resist loss.  Adapting to a new reality incurs loss.  Leadership becomes dangerous when it must confront people with loss.
  6. 6. THE PERILS OF ADAPTIVE CHANGE  Leadership would be safe if we only faced problems for which we had the solutions.  But there are problems for which the solution is not known; these require change.  Change won’t last without people that can embrace it; but most won’t see that.  What they do see is a potential for loss and look to the leader for solutions.  When people seek technical answers to adaptive challenges, dysfunction ensues.
  7. 7. THE PERILS OF ADAPTIVE CHANGE  Leadership failure occurs by treating adaptive challenges like technical problems.  Adaptive change requires adjusting expectations and forgoing the status quo.  This demands the leader possess time, presence and great communication skills.  However if adaptive change is necessary, it must occur despite the cost or the organization will die.
  8. 8. GOING BEYOND YOUR AUTHORITY  Adaptive change creates instability by exposing entrenched issues and disturbing people and norms.  These problems lack solutions because no one wants them solved.  The risk of exercising adaptive leadership is exceeding your authority.  You will face resistance or even discipline for breaking the rules.
  9. 9. GOING BEYOND YOUR AUTHORITY  Leadership is not the same as authority.  Exceeding authority is not leadership.  Exceeding authority to expose deep- seated problems toward positive change is an example of adaptive leadership.  Rules, culture, norms, SOP’s, etc. often discourage the hard questions and choices necessary to do so.
  10. 10. AT THE HEART OF DANGER IS LOSS  Changing the way people see and do things challenges how they define themselves.  Giving up conceptions of self can trigger tremendous feelings of loss.  To discard some part of their beliefs may make people feel like they are diminishing the past.  The pain of disloyalty felt during change results from loss and can be manifested as denial or acting out.
  11. 11. SUMMARY: THE HEART OF DANGER  The danger of the challenges of adaptive change and is key to recognize.  Resistance is created because change:  Challenges the status quo  Forces people to redefine their identity  Causes loss, uncertainty and disloyalty.  Questions followers’ sense of competence  Resistance is a defense, used to get leaders to back off and is tough to see.
  12. 12. THE FACES OF DANGER Chapter 2
  13. 13. THE FACES OF DANGER  The faces of adaptive leadership danger take many forms:  Marginalization  Diversion  Attack  Seduction  Obscurity makes them effective.  Leaders often never see the danger until it is too late.
  14. 14. MARGINALIZATION  Usually a literal form (squelching, tokenism, dismissal).  We tend to collude with those who marginalize us.  Marginalization often comes in more seductive forms (sui generis).  Personalization leans toward marginalization; tying survival and success to an issue.
  15. 15. DIVERSION  Methods of diversion:  Broadening the leader’s agenda and often overwhelming it.  Leader promoted or given new responsibilities as a way of side-tracking the agenda.  Leaders can easily be diverted by getting lost in other people’s demands (in box stuffing) and programmatic details (Unconscious Conspiracy).
  16. 16. ATTACK Reasons for attack:  Turning the focus from the agenda to the leader or the attack itself may succeed in killing the agenda.  To find your Achilles’ heel. Criticism  Blame is misplaced but draws from the message. Physical  Changes focus to the fight; easy diversion. Personal  Go after you, your family or your views.
  17. 17. SEDUCTION  Leader loses his/her sense of purpose altogether.  The success lies in the special appeal the tactic has.  People are more easily seduced when their guard is down.
  18. 18. SUMMARY: THE FACES OF DANGER  Marginalization, diversion, attack and seduction all serve a purpose.  They reduce the disequilibrium that is generated by taking focus off the issues.  Leadership requires reverence for the pains of change, recognition of the danger and the skills to respond.
  19. 19. PART TWO Protect and Defend (The Response)
  20. 20. GET ON THE BALCONY Chapter 3
  21. 21. GET ON THE BALCONY  Observing from the balcony is the critical first step in exercising (and safeguarding) adaptive leadership.  Participate both in the “dance” and observe from above (balcony perspective).  Move between the dance floor and the balcony (remain engaged): making interventions, observing the impact, and then reengaging.
  22. 22. GET ON THE BALCONY  To avoid traps, ask questions:  What’s going on here?  Distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges.  Find out where people are at.  Listen to the song beneath the words.  Read the behavior of authority figures for clues.
  23. 23. TECHNICAL PROBLEMS VS. ADAPTIVE CHALLENGES  Most problems have both technical and adaptive aspects;  An adaptive challenge exists when hearts and minds need to change (new ways and different values).  If you throw all the technical fixes at a problem and it persists, its an adaptive challenge.  The persistence of conflict usually indicates that a problem is an adaptive challenge.  Crisis is a good indicator of adaptive challenges.  Identify them, decide which to address first and how.
  24. 24. TECHNICAL PROBLEMS VS. ADAPTIVE CHALLENGES What’s the work? Who Does It? Technical Problems Apply Current Know-How The “authorities” Adaptive Change Learn New Ways The people with the problem Who does the work?
  25. 25. FIND OUT WHERE PEOPLE ARE AT  Getting followers to address a tough issue is difficult and risky.  If people avoid a problem for a long time, don’t be surprised if they try to silence you when you push them to face it.  Your survival and success depend on understanding the varying perspectives among the factions.  Learn from people’s mistakes and fears.
  26. 26. LISTEN TO THE SONG BENEATH THE WORDS  People naturally defend their ways of thinking and avoid difficult value choices.  After hearing the stories, form an interpretation that gets below the surface.  Interpreting intentions is best done alone or with a trusted confidant first.  Whether and how you voice your interpretation, depends on the culture and adaptability of your audience.
  27. 27. READ THE AUTHORITY FIGURE FOR CLUES  During significant change, observe the authority figure for their views on issues and the organizational impact.  His/her behavior is a clue to the group’s level of distress and path to restoring equilibrium.  A cooling attitude from the authority figure indicates organizational resistance to change.
  28. 28. SUMMARY: GET ON THE BALCONY  Leadership is an improvisational art, there is no script.  Keep a diagnostic mindset in a changing reality.  A plan is no more than today’s best guess.  You must see what is happening, while its happening.  Hear what is said; but don’t take it at face value.  Watch the authority figures.
  29. 29. THINK POLITICALLY Chapter 4
  30. 30. THINK POLITICALLY  There are six aspects of thinking politically in the exercise of leadership:  One for dealing with people who are with you on the issue;  One for managing those who are in opposition;  Four for working with those who are uncommitted but wary – the people you are trying to move.
  31. 31. FIND PARTNERS  Partners provide protection and create alliances with factions; strengthening you and your initiatives.  Having partners who are members of the faction for whom the change is most difficult can make a huge difference.  Make the phone calls, test the waters, refine your approach and line up support.  It is a mistake to “go it alone”.
  32. 32. KEEP THE OPPOSITION CLOSE  To succeed in exercising leadership, you must work closely with your opponents.  We may cringe at spending time with them but these anxieties are clues to the resistance ahead.  People who oppose you’re objectives are usually those with the most to lose; they deserve more attention out of compassion, strategy and survival.  Don’t forget those in the middle.
  33. 33. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR PIECE OF THE MESS  Belonging to the community or group that you are trying to lead makes you part of the problem.  Accept responsibility for your piece of the current situation, while trying to move followers to a better place.  Being too quick to lay blame on others, will create risk for yourself.
  34. 34. ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR LOSS  Adaptive work often requires a tough choice between values and beliefs that define who we are.  Part of leading is about helping followers to figure out what to let go of.  It is critical to communicate the reason for sacrifice.  Show that you understand that letting go is difficult.
  35. 35. MODEL THE BEHAVIOR  Modeling the behavior you desire is the most powerful way to acknowledge loss.  Thus modeling the behavior you expect of others is crucial in adaptive change.  Demonstrate the behavior you expect of others, even if it hurts.  Even symbolic modeling can have a substantial impact, motivating followers to do the same.
  36. 36. ACCEPT CASUALTIES  Adaptive change may hurt those who benefit from the status quo.  Those who cannot adapt will be left behind, becoming casualties.  Thus, casualties are by-product of adaptive work.  Accepting casualties shows your courage and commitment to change.  An aversion to casualties, presents an invitation to push your perspective aside.
  37. 37. SUMMARY: THINK POLITICALLY  The lone warrior myth of leadership is heroic suicide.  Find partners: nobody is smart or fast enough to go it alone.  Acknowledge the risks and losses.  Be prepared to accept casualties.  Have the heart to engage in conflict to avoid losing the organization.
  39. 39. ORCHESTRATE THE CONFLICT  When you tackle a tough issue there will be conflict.  Most people have a natural aversion to conflict; organizations hate it.  Adaptive change requires working through conflict; reducing destructive potential.  Orchestrate the conflict by:  Creating a holding environment  Controlling the temperature  Setting the pace  Showing them the future
  40. 40. CREATE A HOLDING ENVIRONMENT  A holding environment is a space in which people can tackle tough, divisive questions without flying apart.  It absorbs the heat of adaptive change; cooling conflicts and dampening passions.  In a holding environment, people feel safe to address problems that are difficult.  No holding environment can withstand endless strain; leaders must keep the stress at a productive level.
  41. 41. CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE  Change generates tension and produces heat; thus managing change requires controlling the temperature.  Control the temperature by:  Raising the heat so that people deal with the threats and challenges facing them.  Lowering the heat to reduce counterproductive tension.  The heat must stay in a tolerable range.
  43. 43. CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE  We call this range the productive zone of distress.
  44. 44. CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE  To raise the temperature:  Highlight the hard issues and focus on them;  Let people feel the weight of responsibility.  To reduce the temperature:  Start with technical problems;  Break the issue into smaller parts;  Create shared successes;  Use humor or take a break;  Bear more of the responsibility yourself;  Use transcendent values.
  45. 45. CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE  Don’t expect the group to tolerate more heat than you can.  Increasing your own capacity for taking heat will raise the tolerance of the group.  Control your emotional responses.  Monitor the temperature of the group; keeping it high enough to motivate, but not so high that it paralyzes.  If you sense a melt-down, cool things off
  46. 46. PACE THE WORK  People can only stand so much change at one time.  By pacing the work, you make change a strategic and deliberate process.  This requires letting ideas and programs seep out slowly to be tested and accepted.  The pace is determined by the:  Difficulty of the issue;  Tolerance of the group;  Strength of the authority relationships;  Holding environment.  Be ready to improvise, adapt and overcome.
  47. 47. SHOW THEM THE FUTURE  Keeping change going forward requires constant reinforcement of the vision and “dream” (what they’re fighting for).  Keep the “dream” tangible.  Helping followers see the “dream” will keep them from focusing on the losses.
  48. 48. SUMMARY: ORCHESTRATE THE CONFLICT  Build structures of relationships to work the tough issues.  Keep your hands on the temperature controls.  Don’t provoke people too much, too quickly.  Orchestrate the conflict, don’t become the conflict.  Let them do the work.
  49. 49. GIVE THE WORK BACK Chapter 6
  50. 50. GIVE THE WORK BACK  Shouldering the adaptive work of others is risky.  When you take on a issue, you become the issue.  You will be held responsible for the disequilibrium the process has generated.
  51. 51. TAKE THE WORK OFF YOUR SHOULDERS  Place the work where it belongs; in the right place where it can be resolved by the parties involved.  Do not waste time trying to explain yourself. This will personalize the issue.  Resisting the temptation to fix the issue yourself takes courage and discipline.
  52. 52. PLACE THE WORK WHERE IT BELONGS  Adaptive challenges require followers to change their hearts and behaviors.  The “people with the problem” must become the “people with the solution”.  Resist personalizing the issue: keep the focus on the work with those who need the solution.
  53. 53. MAKE YOUR INTERVENTIONS SHORT AND SIMPLE.  Leadership requires interventions.  Keep them short and simple:  Observations  Questions  Interpretations  Action  Which intervention depends on your skill, purpose and assessment of success.
  54. 54. OBSERVATIONS  Observations are statements that attempt to describe current conditions.  They shift the group onto the balcony to get a little distance from the focus and seek perspective on what they are doing.  They are less threatening than other interventions.
  55. 55. QUESTIONS  A question may have the effect of giving the work back to the group.  You might use a question to avoid the “line of fire”, while still getting the issue addressed.  Injecting your interpretation of events into a question makes it “loaded”.  Avoid asking a “loaded” question; they irritate people unnecessarily.
  56. 56. INTERPRETATIONS  It is much better to follow an observation with an interpretation rather than a loaded question.  In offering an interpretation, you may not be fully certain of its accuracy; wait and listen.  Interpretations are provocative and raise the heat: be ready to prove you’re still on the “team”.
  57. 57. ACTIONS  Actions communicate.  Actions as interventions can complicate situations because they are susceptible to multiple interpretations.  Actions draw attention, but the message and the content must be crystal clear.
  58. 58. SUMMARY: GIVE THE WORK BACK  Survival in leadership requires avoiding being the target of people’s frustrations.  Think constantly about giving the work back to the people who need to take responsibility.  You must hold steady in the aftermath of your intervention to evaluate how to move next.
  59. 59. HOLD STEADY Chapter 7
  60. 60. HOLD STEADY  Holding steady in the heat of action is an essential skill for survival and keeping people focused on the work ahead.  Take the heat.  Let the issue ripen.  Focus attention on the issue.
  61. 61. TAKE THE HEAT  Learning to “take the heat” is one of the toughest tasks of leadership.  “Taking the heat” is disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.  People will test your steadiness and judge your worthiness by how you react.  Receiving people’s anger without becoming personally defensive generates trust.  Taking heat with grace communicates respect for the pains of change.
  62. 62. LET THE ISSUE RIPEN  Wait until an issue is ripe, or ripen it yourself.  The organization must be psychologically ready to weigh priorities and take losses.  When is an issue “ripe”:  What else is on people’s minds?  How deeply are people affected by the problem?  How much do people need to learn?  What are the senior authority figures saying?
  63. 63. LET THE ISSUE RIPEN  You may have to take baby steps.  It may take years to ripen the issue in an organization to the point that people understand what is at stake and can decide their fate.  Those who have authority put it at risk by seeking to raise unripe issues.
  64. 64. FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE ISSUE  Getting people to focus on tough problems is a complicated and difficult task.  Out of sight out of mind  Swept under the carpet  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Scapegoating  Reorganizing (again)  Passing the buck (setting up another committee)  Finding an external enemy  Blaming authority  Character assassination
  65. 65. FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE ISSUE  In leading, you need to hold steady in the face of these distractions, counteract them, and redirect attention to the issue at hand.  Use creative ways to signal the situation is different.  You may need to escalate efforts to a level that puts you at risk.  Reduce the danger by speaking in a neutral and factual manner.
  66. 66. SUMMARY: HOLD STEADY  Maintain creative tension.  Allow the issues to ripen.  Allow yourself time to create a strategy to ripen an issue.  Give yourself time to find out where people are on an issue in order to refocus.
  67. 67. PART THREE Strength and Honor (Body and Soul)
  68. 68. MANAGE YOUR HUNGERS Chapter 8
  69. 69. MANAGE YOUR HUNGERS  We all have hungers: but they can cause us to act unwisely or without purpose.  Recognizing and managing our hungers is personal.  It is easy to get caught up in the action and lose wisdom, discipline and control.  Adaptive leadership requires discipline; giving in to temptation destroys one’s capacity to lead.
  70. 70. POWER AND CONTROL  The hunger for power is human, but some have an abnormal need for control also.  Power is the great aphrodisiac; giving in to it displays a lack of self-control.  These people can lose sight of the work; thus losing sight of the solution.  Followers give power in return for service; thus, they can easily revoke it.  Don’t let power go to your head.
  71. 71. AFFIRMATION AND IMPORTANCE  When leading, some will affirm your views and others will oppose.  Accepting accolades in an undisciplined way can lead to grandiosity.  The hunger for importance clouds the warnings of danger.  Grandiosity isolates you from reality, setting you up for failure.  Knowing the limits of your competence will keep you open to learning.
  72. 72. INTIMACY AND DELIGHT  Human beings need intimacy; but can be vulnerable when fulfilling this need.  Power is the great aphrodisiac; giving in to it displays a lack of self-control.  Sex is a common way of fulfilling intimacy and delight.  The struggle for inner discipline is a responsibility of leadership and authority.
  73. 73. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?  How can we manage hungers:  Know yourself.  Acknowledge your needs.  Appropriately honor those needs.  This requires knowing your vulnerabilities and compensating for them.  Ideas for managing intimacy and desire:  Transitional rituals  Rekindle the sparks
  74. 74. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?  Transitional rituals:  Helps us feel our own skins again.  Transition between public and private lives.  Routine activity coupled with intent to unplug and slow down.  Rekindle the Sparks:  Intimate relationships are important.  When trouble strikes, have the courage to get help.  Restoring intimate relationships is the healthiest way to manage hungers.
  75. 75. SUMMARY: MANAGE YOUR HUNGERS  We are designed to live in small groups under stable conditions.  Its okay to feel overwhelmed or hunkered down.  We need ongoing practices to compensate for weaknesses.
  76. 76. ANCHOR YOURSELF Chapter 9
  77. 77. ANCHOR YOURSELF  To anchor ourselves, it is important to distinguish between roles and self .  Self, we can anchor;  Roles, we cannot.  Self relies on the ability to witness, learn and refine core values.  Roles are dependent on the expectations of others.
  78. 78. DISTINGUISH ROLE FROM SELF  It is easy to confuse role with self .  In order to withstand and judge criticism fairly, you must separate role from self.  Anchoring enables you to sustain opposition; providing the stamina to remain gentle, focused and persistent.  How you mange accusations, rather than the accusations themselves, determines your fate.  Don’t lose touch with self and become the issue.
  79. 79. KEEP CONFIDANTS, AND DON’T CONFUSE THEM WITH ALLIES  You need both allies and confidants.  Allies share your values and strategy but operate across a boundary.  Confidants are outside of boundaries and provide an outlet not found in the group.  They must be separate from each other.  Turning an ally into a confidant places that relationship at risk and causes harm.  Once an ally fails you as a confidant, they slip away as reliable allies.
  80. 80. SEEK SANCTUARY  Having a readily available sanctuary provides an indispensable physical anchor and source of sustenance.  It is not a place to hide, but one of reflection and renewal where you can reaffirm your sense of self and purpose.  Everyone seeking to exercise leadership needs a sanctuary among their anchors.
  81. 81. SUMMARY: ANCHOR YOURSELF  We all need anchors to keep us from being swept away by the distractions.  It is about recognizing the seriousness of caring for ourselves in order to do justice to our values and aspirations.  Without antidotes to the modern world, we lose perspective, jeopardize the issues, and risk our future.  We forget what’s on the line.
  82. 82. WHAT’S ON THE LINE? Chapter 10
  83. 83. WHAT’S ON THE LINE?  Why lead and put yourself on the line?  Leadership is driven by the desire of one person to contribute to others.  Leadership allows us to connect with others in a significant way.  The word we use for this connection is love.
  84. 84. LOVE  The enduring basis for all civilizations lies in their attachments to one another or love.  Love gives meaning to what you do.  The heart of leadership comes from feeling the bonds of those you love.
  85. 85. THE MYTH OF MEASUREMENT  People can get stuck in the myth of measurement.  While, measurement is an extraordinarily useful tool, one cannot measure the good one does.  Measurement cannot quantify the essence of what makes individuals or lives worthwhile.
  86. 86. THE FORM DOESN’T MATTER  The form of one’s contribution is far less important than the content.  People experience disorientation and despair when they mistake form for content.  Don’t get caught up in the form, it is the content that has the true value.  Keep your sense of purpose and meaning flexible; work should support you, not define you.
  87. 87. SUMMARY: WHAT’S ON THE LINE?  Leadership is a way of giving meaning to your life by contributing to others.  Leadership is a labor of love.  Opportunities for these labors cross your path everyday.  Seizing these opportunities takes heart.
  88. 88. SACRED HEART Chapter 11
  89. 89. SACRED HEART  Exercising leadership is an expression of your aliveness but does not come without pain.  Getting beat up, put down, or silenced while leading can result in the loss of innocence, curiosity and compassion.  They become cynicism, arrogance and callousness as a defense.  These feelings will destroy your capacity to lead, disabling the life experience.
  90. 90. SACRED HEART Quality of Heart Becomes Dressed Up As Innocence Cynicism Realism Curiosity Arrogance Authoritative Knowledge Compassion Callousness The thick-skin of experience
  91. 91. A REFLECTION ON SACRED HEART  The most difficult work of leadership is learning to feel distress without numbing yourself.  The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence, curiosity, compassion and love.  The power of a sacred heart helps you and others to find the courage to endure the pain of change without running away.
  92. 92. INNOCENCE, CURIOSITY AND COMPASSION: VIRTUES OF AN OPEN HEART  You choose to lead with passion because an issue moves you.  Keeping a sacred heart is about holding on to these virtues as you pursue your passion.  The virtues are innocence, curiosity and compassion.
  93. 93. VIRTUES OF AN OPEN HEART: INNOCENCE  Innocence is the capacity to be childlike in your pursuits, playful in your life and work and strange to your organization.  It fosters the consideration of creative solutions but can fade over time.  Maintaining innocence requires having a mechanism to rebuild or reconnect with it.
  94. 94. VIRTUES OF AN OPEN HEART: CURIOSITY  To succeed in leading adaptive change, you need curiosity; or the capacity to listen with open ears, and to embrace new and disturbing ideas.  If you are honest, you know that your vision is merely the best estimate of what the path is currently.  Thus, adaptive leadership requires you to continuously question everything and be curious.
  95. 95. VIRTUES OF AN OPEN HEART: COMPASSION  Compassion enables you to acknowledge other’s pain and loss even when it seems that you have no resources left.  It is necessary for success, survival and for leading a “whole” life.  Compassion allows you to triage your attention, care and skill to those who have fought the hardest and need it most.
  96. 96. FINAL SUMMARY  Opportunities to lead are available every day.  Putting yourself on the line is difficult work and the dangers are real.  Leadership has nobility and benefits for you and those around you that are beyond the ability to measure.
  97. 97. REFERENCES  Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.  Adaptive vs. Technical. Perf. Dr. Ron Heifetz, Ph.D. 2011. YouTube. Center for Integrative Leadership, University of Minnesota, 4 Aug. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.  Paul Combs Images

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Notes taken from the book authored by Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linskey. Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. Thank you to the authors for creating a work so enduring and so enlightening. Even after 12 years, the message in this piece still rings true.


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