Leadership Lessons for Turbulent Times

A recap on the MAVA Educational Presentation

Thursday, February 10, 2011 at the Roseville Library in Roseville, Minnesota

Tim Reardon (http://www.reardongroup.com/trg/home.htm) understands social services and volunteer management. He began his career at the Dorothy Day Center when it was just a small storefront, working closely with volunteers to advance their mission.  He seemed to feel very much “at home” with our group of 50 MAVA members who gathered to learn more about traversing these complicated times.

Tim began the session by asking people to get up and walk around, reviewing quotes posted on various walls.  People then congregated around the quote they thought best reflected their approach when facing leadership issues in these bumpy times. I chose “When deciding between 2 evils, I always choose the one I haven’t tried before,” a great quote from Mae West.  I met Nicole Burg, MAVA Member Outreach Coordinator, there who also resonated with Mae’s quote.  The exercise moved participants around, mixing us with others who felt drawn to similar quotes.

Tim invoked the teachings of Ron Heifetz (www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/ronald-heifetz), co-author of the book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.  Tim outlined the 3 goals for the day as:

  • · sharpen our ability to lead others during these turbulent times
  • · increase our self-discovery, confidence and trust to exercise change
  • · understand resistance to change

Tim led us through exercises where we all gave our best efforts to define leadership, explore the differences between management and leadership, and share our views of what leadership looked and felt like.  He then dove into the main concept of the training: distinguishing technical vs. adaptive challenges to ensure appropriate actions when addressing issues.

A quick overview of the presentation:

  • Technical challenges are those issues that need to be addressed by someone who is an authority on the matter and can apply current know-how.
  • Adaptive challenges are those that need to be addressed by the people with the problem. It is the leader’s role to help these people learn new ways to address the adaptive challenges. These issues often need an innovative and newly-designed approach that management cannot simply implement.

Misdiagnosis of an issue is a common problem. Trying to fix an adaptive issue using technical solutions will not produce success.    Tim’s main mantra was: most thorny issues tend to be adaptive, not technical.   An outside person (or person of authority) will not be able to ride in and solve the issues.  Tim outlined 6 principles of Adaptive Work:

  1. Get on the balcony (meaning, take a high-level look at the issues)
  2. Identify the adaptive challenge
  3. Regulate distress
  4. Maintain disciplined atttention
  5. Give the work back to those involved
  6. Protect those people close to the work who offer new ideas and are often not considered leaders

Tim’s session was highly informative, loaded with content that was understandable, usable, and could be implemented in our many & various organizations.  People stated they could have stayed  longer, investigated these concepts further, and spent even more time on this topic. I felt that it was a very worthwhile educational opportunity. He stressed:

  • Staying true to yourself
  • Holding steady
  • Focusing attention on the issues
  • Aligning yourself politically
  • Giving the right work back to the right people
  • Drawing attention to the right  questions
  • Controlling the heat on the issue
  • Orchestrating the conflict
  • Anchoring yourself

These are all great concepts for each of us to incorporate every day in our ever-tubulent work!  Tim reminded us of the wise words of Mohandas Gandhi that so elequently addressed an adaptive approach:

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

Sandy Bergeron

MAVA member from Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota


One Response to Leadership Lessons for Turbulent Times

  1. Jay Haapala says:

    I really enjoyed the workshop today myself. We spent a lot of time thinking and talking about adapative leadership for our own organzations, but not so much about the field of volunteerism.

    For the first time, “advocacy for the field of volunteerism” was the top reason for being a MAVA member listed on our annual survey in 2010. Based on what we learned today, this is an adaptive problem – not one that requires a technical solution by an expert, but one that requires people’s behaviors, beliefs and attitudes to change. We learned that “the people who have the problem” are the ones who need to do this work.

    What are the adaptive issues for the field of volunteerism? Also, how can we apply what we know about adaptive leadership to those issues?

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