The six questions below are based on “Leading in the Chaos of the 21st Century,” an article by Toby Tetenbaum and Hank Laurence that is located below these instructions. Answer each of the questions using complete sentences. Be sure to be as specific and as detailed as possible in your answers. Instead of copying from the article, put your answers in your own words. Make sure you check your writing for spelling and/or grammatical errors. You must number each of your answers.
1. According to Tetenbaum and Laurence, how does the Newtonian paradigm of leadership differ from a paradigm of leadership that is based on chaos and disequilibrium?
2. Why do the authors believe that the Newtonian paradigm of leadership is inadequate in today’s world?
3. What is the role of followers in the new model of leadership outlined by the authors?
4. The leadership model based on chaos and disequilibrium requires that the leader have special skills and abilities. What are these and how should they be exercised? Put another way, what is the art of leadership in this new model?
5. Discuss the chaos (or chaordic) paradigm of leadership as it relates to two political issues that you think are important today and over the coming years. These could include policy issues related to climate change, public education, criminal justice reform, etc.
6. Discuss how the new model of leadership that Tetenbaum and Laurence discuss can be applied to your career goals after you complete the formal phase of your education (whether at Austin Peay or elsewhere if you plan to pursue a graduate degree). Give at least three specific examples.
This assignment is worth 100 points. Not counting the title page, it must be 3-4 pages in length (double-spaced, using a 12-point font, and one-inch margins on all sides of the page). You should not use outside sources for this assignment. Here is the scoring rubric:
• 10 points: stylistics (length, grammar, spelling, etc.).
• 15 points for each of the six required elements described above.
LEADING IN THE CHAOS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
TOBY TETENBAUM AND HANK LAURENCE
In the transition from a Newtonian paradigm of control and equilibrium to one of chaos and disequi- librium, organizations have substantially changed their structures (e.g., moving to diverse project- based teams, advancing knowledge management, and building innovative cultures), but they have only minimally changed their leadership styles and practices. This paper describes a model of lead- ership proposed by Ron Heifetz that optimizes the characteristics of the 21st century in which the leader’s role is to disturb equilibrium, differentiate between technical and adaptive challenges, and engage the followers in solving the organization’s problems. This model is contrasted with other leadership models to validate its usefulness in the face of chaos, ambiguity, and rapid change. The commitment of the leader to holding steady in the face of predictably strong resistance and the dan- gers to the leader in using this model are discussed.
For more than 250 years, most of the world has oper- ated in the context of the Newtonian paradigm. “So what?” you might ask. “Why is that important?” It is important because the core of the Newtonian paradigm promised a universe that was law-abiding and pre- dictable, thereby allowing people to feel comfortable and safe. The laws promised a degree of predictability that let people feel in control of their lives. This is a crit- ical concept, since the need to be in control is very much a human need.
This concept of control was translated into how or- ganizations were structured and operated as the Indus- trial Era began. If control is desirable, then you structure your organizations hierarchically and make decisions top-down. You reward managers for keeping things copasetic. If a crisis creates instability, you expect the
manager to reestablish equilibrium. Workers quickly learned in the Newtonian model not to make waves or raise problems. They were expected to use their hands, not their head, and to follow their supervisor’s or boss’s orders without comment. The reigning organizational model—scientific management, based on the work of Frederick Taylor ( Weisbord, 1987)—was totally con- sistent with the Newtonian paradigm, focused as it was on efficiency and predictability.
This paradigm worked over the span of 250 years largely because life moved relatively slowly in the 1700s and 1800s, such that there were few major changes to which businesses had to adapt. But during the 20th cen- tury, advances in technology accelerated everything. Change came more rapidly; cause and effect were not so transparent as in earlier times, so predictability decreased,
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View this article online at wileyonlinelibrary.com • DOI:10.1002/jls.20191 41
and change became discontinuous rather than linear, fur- ther reducing predictability. Problems became more highly complex. And a new paradigm emerged, that of chaos.
The New Paradigm of Chaos and Disequilibrium
Chaos theory emerged out of the field of biology in con- trast to the Newtonian paradigm, which was tied to the fields of physics and math. Whereas physics and math- ematics are rule-bound fields that require specific inputs to solve formulae (a condition not always attainable), biology focuses on networks and connections. Because it is modeled on nature, unintended consequences and counterintuitive outcomes are to be expected.
It is important for us to understand a little about this new paradigm since, again, as when the Newtonian par- adigm prevailed, our worldview influences how our or- ganizations are structured and how they operate, how leaders need to function in this new environment, and how the nature of work and worker behavior needs to be seen from a new perspective.
The focus of chaos is the web of feedback loops pres- ent in every system. In some systems, the feedback loops are linear; in others, nonlinear. Business organizations, because they are made up of people, are highly com- plex, nonlinear feedback systems. Feedback loops can be negative, producing stable equilibrium, or positive, producing unstable equilibrium. Think about when you receive positive feedback: what do you do? (Answer: You keep on doing what you were doing.) And if you get negative feedback, what do you do? (Answer: You stop doing what you were doing.) At their border, these two contradictory forces, operating simultaneously, pull the system in opposite directions. Scientists have discovered that, at this border area where chaos lies, feedback au- tonomously flips between positive and negative, gener- ating patterns that are neither stable nor unstable, but rather a paradoxical combination of both. It is here, in the instability, that the greatest creativity comes about.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHAOS
Order in Chaos. A layperson hears the word chaos and thinks of a birthday party for 20 four-year-olds, or a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. These images lead us
to see chaos as confusion, disarray, and pandemonium. But in fact, scientists have learned that chaos is none of these. Rather, the term describes a complex, unpre- dictable, and orderly disorder in which patterns of be- havior unfold in irregular but similar forms. An illustration of order in disorder is the snowflake: every snowflake has six sides (order), but no two snowflakes are alike (disorder). Ralph Stacey (1992) calls this “bounded equilibrium” and Dee Hock (1999), the futurist and founder of VISA, calls it “chaordic,” a com- bination of chaos and order. So a primary characteristic of chaos is order in disorder. It is not either-or but rather both-and.
Self-Organizing. A second characteristic is that chaos is self-organizing. Two critical words at the core of this paradigm are emerges and evolves because no leader/ manager/person is in charge; that is, no one is in control. Think about Silicon Valley, where no one led the com- puter or dot-com revolution. Its existence can be attrib- uted largely to the intersection of distinguished research centers at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, and the availability of skilled labor. Other high- tech economic areas have emerged for similar reasons: Austin, Texas; the Triangle Research Center of North Carolina; and Route 128 outside of Boston. Their emer- gence shares a commonality with Silicon Valley, namely that they too arose in areas providing excellent educa- tional institutions and skilled labor. A clear pattern emerges: the availability of advanced technology that at- tracts electronics manufacturers, which in turn attracts component suppliers and support companies.
This would suggest that it is possible to deliberately create a geographic economic development area, but whenever governments have tried to artificially create them they have failed. No individual was in charge of creating a high-tech industry. Silicon Valley and its sim- ilar “sisters” emerged. They were spontaneous, self- organizing systems, and they show how extraordinary outcomes can be produced from chaos.
Another example of a self-organizing is the company VISA. Do you know where it is located? How it is oper- ated? Who owns it? No? This is because VISA is decentral- ized, nonhierarchical, evolving, self-organizing, and self-regulating. Hock’s creation is a chaordic system based
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solely on purpose and principle (1999). Its structure evolved from these two elements. Chaos can be seen in the fact that VISA cards can be issued by a diversity of banks with a variety of interest rates. Order can be seen in the fact that, no matter where you use your VISA card, if the organization accepts VISA, it all works the same way.
Hock says, “In chaordic systems, order emerges. Struc- ture evolves. Life is a recognizable pattern within infinite diversity” (cited in Durrance, 1997, p. 10). Margaret Wheatley (2006), a scientist who promoted the use of chaos with leadership, explains the self-organizing con- cept like this: “Life seeks order in a disorderly way . . . mess upon mess until something workable emerges” (p. 17). Contrast the words of Newton (laws, rules, control, ef- ficiency through scientific management) with the words of chaos (disorder, self-organization, emerging, evolv- ing). It is highly unlikely that managers will relate to a theory that encourages mess to prevail, or that they will have the courage and patience to wait while workers self-organize.
CHAOS AND ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE
The shifting paradigms and the changes brought about in moving from the industrial era to an information and technological age call for changes in organizational structures, many of which have already taken place, to a degree.
Knowledge and Information Sharing. Knowledge is a precondition for emergent change; therefore, compa- nies that want to succeed in this new era must rely on the collective intelligence of their people. Thus, com- panies have eliminated functional silos that prevented cross-functional learning and have encouraged devel- opment of learning communities. They have instituted knowledge management processes that make virtually all company knowledge available to everyone and have engaged in open sourcing that brings in knowledge and information from anywhere in the world. Amassing knowledge and sharing it go hand-in-glove, so power in organizations no longer belongs to the person who hoards it; rather, power accrues to those who are a source of knowledge and who share what they know. There is still room for improvement in this area since knowledge management is not so comprehensive and powerful in most organizations as it needs to be.
Innovation and Creativity. Most organizations under- stand the need for organic growth in today’s competitive world, and this requires innovation and creativity: new products, new processes, new strategies, all internally grown. But innovative and creative activities are asso- ciated with experimentation, trial-and-error, risk tak- ing, and failure. They thrive on the “mess” of which Wheatley spoke. They require a culture in which rules are meant to be broken and assumptions are being constantly tested. Thus, despite espousing innovation as a core value, most organizations have not actually practiced extensive innovation outside of their R&D center. If anything, the current depressed economy has made them more conservative with regard to focusing on known ways of doing things. Tunnel vision and hun- kering down can jeopardize an organization’s future by shutting out serendipitous events. Think of the acci- dental success of Post-it Notes for 3M (Pinchot, 1985) or of Johnson & Johnson having 44% of its revenues coming from baby powder, which was originally sent to a physician whose patients were developing a skin ir- ritation from the company’s plaster.
Teamwork and Project Orientation. Knowledge growth, information sharing, and creativity and innova- tion thrive best in small groups with continuous com- munication, collaboration, and interaction. This past decade has seen more decentralization, teams, and proj- ect task forces than ever before. Earlier individual con- tributors were the norm. Small groupings are flexible enough to form, change, and dissolve as needed. They permit sufficient agility to continuously reorganize. Intel, for example, uses temporary teams drawn from a range of disciplines, constantly forming around specific business issues or projects (Grove, 1996). The company structure is more like a web of teams and projects than a clearly defined vertical hierarchy. And at 3M, project groups operating with little constraint from the formal organization come together to accomplish a task and disband when their work is completed (von Hippel, Thamke, & Sonnack, 2002). Self-organization and self- design flourish without the need for formal coordina- tion. If researchers at 3M cannot get funding for their ideas within their own center or lab, they are encour- aged to search out other centers and labs. This empha- sis on ideas rather than structures frees people to focus
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on creativity and innovation, making 3M one of the most successful companies in the world and one that is close to being a chaordic organization. A project-based structure is not an easy one either to manage or to work in, relying heavily on all team members’ influence skills, but it is a necessary approach to dealing with speed, complexity, and competition.
Diversity. Thesecrettoproductiveandcreativeproject groupings is diversity. Homogeneous groups tend to produce homogeneous ideas. To achieve a high level of creative thought, it is necessary to bring together groups of people with different levels of expertise, employees at all levels of the organization (representing various ages, experiences, and backgrounds), and above all peo- ple representing a broad spectrum of ideas. For origi- nal thinking, it is especially important to include the company’s mavericks. Every company has them, but they often must struggle against company orthodoxy. Having their ideas dismissed out of hand leaves them so frustrated that they either stop participating or leave the company altogether. Truly different ideas rarely come from the core of the organization; they are found on the periphery, and that’s where mavericks usually re- side. Two characteristics must be valued if an organiza- tion is to succeed, especially in the current economic climate: one is a tolerance for new ideas along with pro- tection of those who present them. The other is a high tolerance for conflict and for challenging ideas, no mat- ter where they come from. Polite cultures, in which the hierarchy receives too much respect and in which con- flict is viewed as negative, will not survive. A chaotic organization is, by definition, conflictual, but the very tension that produces conflict also produces genuinely creative, fruitful ideas.
Chaos and Leadership Change
It is apparent that at the same time that the new para- digm is calling for organizational changes in structures, radical change is needed in our view of leadership. The key task for leaders will be to move their organization from the stability and control of the Newtonian para- digm to a model that creates disequilibrium and engages the full knowledge and abilities of all the followers. It is only with such a model that organizations will survive
the economic downturn and be competitive in an ex- ceedingly difficult global environment. For too long, the world has been changing, organizations have been changing, but leaders have not. Perhaps it is because there are few models, if any, for them to follow.
A recent model of leadership is proposed by Ron Heifetz (1994; Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009; Heifetz & Linsky, 2002), founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School for Government and Public Policy. Heifetz proposes that a leader’s job is to build the adaptive capacity of the or- ganization. This is done by the leader in three major ways.
CREATING DISEQUILIBRIUM IN THE ORGANIZATION
The concept of deliberately creating disequilibrium is probably frightening to most leaders, especially those whose careers were developed during the Newtonian era in which stability was prized. But disequilibrium is at the heart of change. As the field theorist Kurt Lewin noted in the 1940s, any change must be preceded by “unfreezing” (cited in Schein, 1996). Organizations in equilibrium rarely grow or change and may in fact not survive; they are living entities, and living entities need to grow to survive. Rather, they must move to the edge of chaos, where experimentation, risk taking, and new solutions are to be found.
Leaders typically disturb equilibrium by creating ur- gency: for example, announcing some situation that will be painful to the workers (e.g., the threat of their de- partment closing) or setting stretch goals that cannot be accomplished by going about one’s work in the usual ways. The result is that workers are compelled to change their work processes. Another way to create urgency is first to envision a future so compelling that people want to move in this direction, and then illustrate, with cur- rent data, the huge gap between the organization’s pres- ent situation and the attraction of the desirable future state. Both approaches can shift people away from the status quo, but the urgency or future vision must be powerful since homeostasis is the natural state and has a strong pull on people.
People become disoriented when their equilibrium is compromised and they experience a high level of stress, leading them to push back on a leader who attempts to
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disturb them. The leader needs to be prepared for these contingencies; nevertheless, disequilibrium is the sine qua non of any change initiative. Maintaining the orga- nization’s status quo is a sure kiss of death in today’s en- vironment.
If too much stress is generated by the call to urgency and the followers begin to manifest dysfunctional be- havior, the leader may need to back off for a bit and re- turn to the issue at a later date. However, if the issue needs to be confronted immediately and there is no time to back off, then the leader will be challenged as to how to ripen the issue to move it forward.
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN TECHNICAL AND ADAPTIVE CHANGE
Many of the problems organizations face are technical; that is, they are fairly routine, and the knowledge of how to solve them already exists. But many problems have no known or effective response. The challenge to the organization, then, is to do something it has never done before. This is an adaptive challenge whose reso- lution might well involve requisite changes in the orga- nization’s values, beliefs, and behaviors—changes in its core culture. It is important to distinguish between a technical change and an adaptive one since each requires its own approach or strategy on the part of the leader.
A typical response to a problem in an organization is to have the leader (possibly with the executive team) decide on the solution and then engage the managers in imple- menting that solution with their reports. It is at this point that Heifetz’s model departs drastically from what is typ- ical, namely, getting the people in the organization to take responsibility for the organization’s problems.
GETTING THE WORKERS TO DO THE WORK
Heifetz (1994) proposes that the leader identify the adaptive challenge and offer a diagnosis of the condi- tion, and that the leader then pose questions about the problem and open discussion of possible solutions to the employees. The leader neither answers the questions nor solves the problem unilaterally. Thus, Heifetz sees the leader’s role as continuously giving the work back to the people, but at a rate they can tolerate (see the discussion of pacing on p. 46). Over time, the leader’s role is to de- velop people’s adaptive capacity to take on increasingly
more difficult problems. This is not an easy task; people will attempt to put the burden back on the leader, and it is a major job of the leader not to ac- cept when the workforce tries to engage him or her in dependency.
The leader may have to carry the burden for a time in order to contain distress that could make the organiza- tion dysfunctional; however, as people begin to adapt, they need to take back the problem and see it as theirs and the organization’s, and not solely as the leader’s. Once the workers take back the work, the leader has to become astute in recognizing work avoidance. Homeostasis is a strong magnet pulling people back to where they were comfortable, and they will try to avoid involvement in the problem-solving discussions and change processes. There are innumerable ways people do this:
• Looking for leaders to restore equilibrium by solving the problem themselves
• Clinging to the past, citing precedence and history
• Sticking with standard operating procedures, knowing full well they won’t work
• Scapegoating individuals instead of debating the real issue
• Externalizing the enemy (the eternal “they” who won’t let us . . .)
• Engaging in denial, choosing to believe the prob- lem doesn’t really exist
• Jumping to conclusions and accepting untested assumptions
• Finding a distracting issue to take the group off track
It is a key task of leadership to recognize and counter- act work avoidance and resistance.
BEHAVIORS THAT SUPPORT ADAPTIVE LEADERSHIP
There are several processes and behaviors in which the leader can engage to bolster his or her foray into adap- tive leadership.
Ensuring Diversity in the Discussion. Top-tier execu- tives tend to be too homogeneous, sharing the same or similar worldviews. But understanding and clarifying a
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complex situation requires multiple vantage points and conflicting frames of reference; otherwise the organiza- tion looks only at limited aspects of the problem. Homo- geneity deters rigorous and genuine debate.
It is far better to explore the problem with a diverse community, engaging people at all levels of the orga- nization and ensuring that people of different ages, gen- der, race, ethnicity, and experience are embraced. Leaders should be sure to include influencers and opin- ion makers as well as mavericks. If important stakehold- ers are barred from the discussion, the solution tends to be incomplete or weak.
Encouraging Conflicting Perspectives. The upside of a diverse problem-solving group is that they will pro- duce better solutions than a homogeneous group. The downside is that considerable debate and conflict are generated. This is actually healthy to the development of creative resolutions, but it requires a leader who is skilled in managing conflict.
People make decisions in light of their values, and because values are vital to the individual’s being, tread- ing on and around those values can be risky. Since con- stituencies hold differing values, conflict is inevitable. People in organizations also might be expected to take the perspective of their department, discipline, or func- tion in any debate, particularly if it involves scarce re- sources. This, too, engenders conflict.
When conflict is not only allowed but encouraged, people in the organization get to learn from one an- other. In fact, conflict is a catalyst for learning and should not be avoided. Surveys, however, show that slightly more than half the time conflict is glossed over and avoided. Another 30% of the time, it precipitates heated clashes with no result. Only one in five times is conflict surfaced, debated, and authentically solved.
Modeling Open and Honest Discussion. For his entire career (which spans more than five decades), Chris Argyris, of the Harvard Business School, has worked with organizations to encourage them to engage in open and honest discussion (1985, 1990). Unfortunately, his lessons have met with more failure than success, and he has written frequently of people becoming quite skillful at learning how to discuss a problem without ever surfacing the genuine issue(s). Fearing for their jobs, or
retribution, or not being liked, people in organizations fail to openly discuss the true issues underlying a prob- lem, particularly if it involves a specific individual or a situation created by a specific individual. If the orga- nization has a host of “undiscussables” and “untouch- ables,” it is unlikely they will be able to successfully resolve a deep and complex problem.
What is required is for the leader to model openness, ask for critical feedback to his or her own ideas, and never become defensive if the ideas are questioned. In so doing, the leader can earn the trust of members of the group who will, with time, come to believe that hon- esty is rewarded and not condemned or ridiculed, and that the honest speaker is supported and protected by the leader. A polite culture in which people show exces- sive deference to superiors and withhold statements of what they are concealing in their silent minds cannot effectively solve adaptive problems.
In much the same way that discussion must be open and honest to successfully resolve an organizational problem, the context for viewing the entire adaptive challenge must also be grounded in reality. It needs to be seen in light of various views within the community and weighed against a variety of potential solutions, with all evidence reviewed and consequences consid- ered. It is detrimental to the interests of the organization for individuals to defensively hold on to a particular perspective and suppress others. Again, the leader needs to model openness and awareness of the group dynam- ics. He or she must constantly ask: What are we miss- ing here? Are we genuinely seeking out competing points of view to compare and contrast with those al- ready expressed? Are certain constituencies and their views being suppressed?
To deal in business realities, the leader must ensure that the employees understand them. Does everyone in the organization have a clear line of sight between his or her individual performance and the overall strategy of the organization? Does everyone understand how the business is monetized? Does everyone understand the critical indicators of success and the levers that drive results? Is there shared understanding of where the organization wants to head and how it will get there? The answers to these questions are critical to individ- ual motivation, organizational alignment, and the con- versation about change.
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MANAGING THE STRESS OF SELF, OTHERS, AND THE ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM
According to Heifetz (1994), the tendency to avoid dis- tress is the chief cause of adaptive failure. Leaders who attempt to lead using this model often experience se- vere resistance from their followers and, finding the stress unbearable, let up on the disequilibrium, allowing the followers to slide back into homeostasis. This is un- fortunate; disequilibrium is necessary if change is to occur, and stress is a natural consequence of the confu- sion and ambiguity. Therefore, the leader must engage people despite their level of stress and not attempt to reduce it. If, however, there is a chance of the organiza- tion becoming totally dysfunctional, then restoring equilibrium may take precedence over the prolonged uncertainty associated with managing the adaptive chal- lenge. The ideal is sufficient tension to mobilize people but not overwhelm them.
People look to their leaders to try to gauge their emo- tional reactions and search out the nonverbal cues to their emotional ability to deal with the issues. Conse- quently, to manage the stress of others in the organiza- tion the leader must demonstrate an emotional capacity to tolerate uncertainty, frustration, and pain—to deal with the challenge without becoming too anxious her- self. If the leader’s body language or tone of voice com- municates uneasiness or if she backs out of a debate or indicates stress by breaking into a sweat, the followers will become even more anxious and stressed. They need to see a leader who conveys a calm demeanor, indicat- ing there is no need to panic.
No leader should attempt to use this model who is afraid of ambiguity, conflict, confusion, messiness, re- sistance, and a host of other difficult situational and re- sponsive variables. Though definitely a cognitively appealing model, it is a difficult model to implement and sustain, causing infinite stress all around. Heifetz urges leaders to “hold steady” in the face of the heat the change activities generate, and the anger coming from constituents. One way for leaders to do this, he sug- gests, is to “go to the balcony.” This is a metaphor for watching one’s own behavior on the floor as the action plays out and at the same time reflecting objectively on what is happening. Another way for leaders to hold steady is to be highly self-aware and willing to share
their emotional state with one or more persons in or outside the organization who can serve as a support sys- tem and sounding board to keep them on an even keel.
The leader can manage the stress of the followers in several ways.
Identifying Holding Environments. Conversations can be contained, whether in regular monthly meetings, town halls, or any means where the leader can hold the attention of the followers. Leaders who have positional authority are able to leverage the holding environment because they can reduce stress merely by their authorita- tive presence. In addition, they can explain the purpose of the change and frame the challenge in a minimally stressful manner. Conversely, leaders with positional au- thority can increase the stress, when necessary, by put- ting pressure on stakeholders, upping the conflict, and framing the challenge more severely. When the leader has little or no authority, it is difficult if not impossi- ble to control the degree of stress by structuring the process, gathering the stakeholders in a holding envi- ronment, or regulating statements pertaining to the challenge.
Managing the Pacing of the Change Initiative. Pac- ing depends to a degree on how strong the authority and the holding environment are, how resilient the peo- ple are, and in the end how stressful the problem or issue is. Timing is critical; the leader needs to be highly attuned to the often subliminal indicators and messages occurring in the organization. He or she must know the organization well enough to predict how stressful the challenge will be, and how capably people will absorb the stress. Knowing how resilient the people are allows the leader to have a good sense of when to push harder and when to pull back a bit. The leader must walk a tightrope. Push too little, and people go back to their comfort zone. Push too hard, and they become dysfunc- tional. Push too little, and people oust the leader for lack of progress; push too hard, and they become upset with the leader for creating instability and mess. At this point, they might marginalize—or even remove—the leader.
Framing the Issue and Keeping the Focus. Deciding which issues to focus attention on, how to frame them,
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and how to manage the flow of information are all aspects of pacing. It is an important role of the leader to identify which issues can engage attention and then direct atten- tion to them—to get people to focus on the issues and not allow them to divert their attention to stress-reducing distractions. The leader needs the perspicacity to interpret which issues are close enough to the surface to warrant discussion and which are still unripe (that is, which issues people are ready to face) and then frame those issues so the people can proceed.
Structuring an Unstructured Process. Although an un- derlying assumption of leading change in an era of chaos is to allow self-organization, emergence, experimenta- tion, and messiness, there are methods for containing some of the stress as the work proceeds. Taking elements from project management, the leader can establish the deliverables for a meeting or phase of the process, define boundaries, set milestones, track results, hold people accountable, and reach closure for each meeting or phase. Perhaps most important, the leader can provide feedback about the outcomes of meetings and phases, what worked, and what did not. Organizations can learn from the U.S. Army, which for years has conducted after-action reviews (AAR) for all simulations, thereby exploiting teachable moments—as all leaders should.
Building Trust. Building trust between the leader and the followers is another important way to increase adap- tive capacity. If trust is strong, a leader can increase the pressure on the followers and move more quickly to meet the adaptive challenge. Trust does not mean that the leader should convey that he or she will fix things because this not only is unrealistic but runs counter to the basic tenets of the model. The leader has to change communications to followers from “I’ll take care of this problem” to “I may not have all the answers, but I’m on your side and I’m helping you deal with the problem.”
THE RIGHT LEADERSHIP MODEL FOR THE TIMES
Being an effective leader is difficult in the best of times; being an effective leader in today’s tumultuous world is almost impossible. This is evidenced in the fact that, in the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have lasted fewer than three years (Psychology Today, 2010).
There are a plethora of leadership theories, models, and frameworks from which leaders can choose. In fact, more than 65 classification systems have been devel- oped to define the dimensions of leadership (Fleishman et al., 1991). Nevertheless, most are inadequate and too simplistic to address today’s complex organizations and the problems facing the larger society.
Some theories suffer by focusing solely on the leader. Among them are trait theory (Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader, 2004), skills theory (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, & Marks, 2000), and style theory (Blake & Mouton, 1985). Others, such as situational leadership (Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Nelson, 1993) and leader-member ex- change (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995), take the follower into account but involve only one-on-one or dyadic re- lationships. Still other theories, such as contingency the- ory (Fiedler, 1964), emphasize the context and recommend that if the leader is not a good match for the situation, he or she should change the setting. This is clearly not feasible in ongoing organizations. None of these leadership theories is sufficiently rigorous to address today’s volatile environment.
Transformational leadership (Avolio, 1999; Bass, 1985) is arguably the most popular and fully developed leadership theory. Thirty-four percent of the articles in Leadership Quarterly were about transformational lead- ership. Yet even this theory falls short. Even though it takes into account the leader-follower relationship and focuses on the moral dimension of leadership (motivat- ing followers to transcend their own self-interest for the greater good), it does not focus strongly on the context and therefore is not sufficiently proscriptive to advise leaders struggling with today’s crises.
In contrast, Heifetz’s theory includes the ethical dimen- sion of transformational leadership, emphasizes the criti- cal role of followers in the mode of servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1970), and places the followers at the heart of the theory. It is sound and the only leadership theory that strongly advocates having the followers take on the task of solving the difficult problems facing the organization. The role of the leader in this model changes to that of a fa- cilitator who disturbs disequilibrium, pushes back on the followers to do the work, guides the conversation, encour- ages conflict, and continues to negotiate the troubled wa- ters until the best adaptive solution to the problem facing the organization is reached.
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It takes great courage as a leader to embrace Heifetz’s model. It is not only difficult but can be potentially dangerous to the leader. To continually push back on the followers to do the work and take responsibility for the organization’s problems and to hold steady in the face of resistance is not something everyone who pur- ports to be a leader can sustain. It takes enormous com- mitment to consistently resolve problems with followers rather than by oneself. And it takes endurance to ab- sorb predictable attacks on one’s effectiveness as a leader. Nevertheless, in an era of chaos, complexity, competi- tion, and confusion, Heifetz’s model of leadership pro- vides a compelling approach.
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Toby Tetenbaum is a psychologist and professor at Ford- ham University in the Educational Leadership program. She is also the Director of the Applied Human Resources Master’s Degree program.
Hank Laurence is a certified Master Practitioner of Neuro- Linguistic Programming and Certified Ericksonian Clin- ical Hypnotherapist.
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