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"Adaptive Leadership consists of the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.” ~ Ronald Heifetz

Anybody who has ever been to London has seen the ubiquitous "Mind the Gap" signs in the underground. They warn train travelers to watch their step because of the small chasm created between the train and the platform.

For leaders of organizational change, we face our own chasms, or our own gaps. Indeed, leadership is exercised in helping our charges “mind the gap” between our aspired values and our actions, between our values and the reality we face.

So here is a quick list of how leaders mind the gap and enter into adaptive work.

1. Get up on the balcony (while listening from the floor). This is exhausting work, but it is the primary work. Leaders must be listeners and people who have the vision to see the deeper systemic realities at work in the organization. What is the "music" that keeps our organization, our church, our family "dancing"?

2. Give the work back to the people most affected by the challenge. Are you the only one who is losing sleep over the challenges that you face? What can we do as leaders to "escape the expert expectation"? First thing: transition from being the “great answer giver” to a “great question asker." Raise the issues for others to deal with and get them wrestling with you.

3. Growth focused. Lead people to grow so THEY can face their biggest challenge. Leadership is mostly about learning. Group learning, corporate and collegial learning. To lead is to learn and lead the learning. If learning isn’t necessary, then leadership isn’t really necessary. The task at hand can be really important, even vital, but it’s likely stewardship—protecting and preserving what is most important—not leadership.

4. Go with the energy. Work with the mature and motivated. Let’s face it, most of our work (especially as pastors) is putting out fires, dealing with the resistant, attending to the cranky and trying to appease the complainers. These are part of our work and indeed, the people to whom we are called. But when it is time to lead on, more and more of your energy must be invested in those who are motivated to grow and take responsibility for themselves. Go with the energetic and you’ll have more energy for the others.

5. Grief work: Leading means dealing with loss. “Growing up means giving up.” Adaptive work is about the helping people raise and make hard decisions about competing values in their lives. Competing values can only be solved through Win-Lose. (“Win-win is lose-lose.”) This means something must give, something must go, something will be lost.

6. Get on with it! Get to work; go into the new uncharted territory. After you make some observations and interpretations, try some PLAYFUL interventions. Get right into the middle of the muddled mess. Experiment. (Remember what Thomas Friedman wrote about solving the world’s biggest problems? “We need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages doing 100,000 experiments so that five will work.”) Don’t wait until you figure out the future; step into it and learn along the way. You’ll make mistakes and take missteps, but lead on!



Dr. Tod Bolsinger came to San Clemente Presbyterian in 1997 after serving for ten years at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993. He earned a Ph.D. in Theology and Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and has taught M.Div and D. Min classes at Fuller Theological Seminary and Denver Seminary. He is the author of two books and contributor to two others. He speaks and consults with church, organizational and business leadership groups with TAG Consulting.

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Isaac Samadder

commented on Jun 22, 2013

I loved the six points and found effective. The article could have been more effective if you relates those six point with supporting Bible verse. Thank you.

Pastor Darrin Lee

commented on Jun 22, 2013

Isaac, maybe we should look at the verses....good article Bro. Bolsinger....Thanks for the insight.

Paul Emmanuel

commented on Jun 22, 2013

The six points are very precise, concise and easy to understand. Thank you.

Mark Pittman

commented on Jun 22, 2013

Dr. Tod, great leadership works in secular as well as sacred settings. "How well it works" is no guarantee that we are seeing Jesus at work. One is given the impression by the abundance of skills and keys that if Moses, Isaiah, Paul, heck even Jesus, had had these tools John 6:66 need never have been written. The "music" to which most of our churches are dancing is just not Jesus' Gospel. "Turn-around" is too seldom metamorphosis, new-creation, life-changing "Christ in you." Love must proclaim, and insist, Jesus did not die to free us from the penalty of sin alone, but from its power. We are given the right to become children of God, called to love like our Lord and Creator, the love poured out into our hearts by his Spirit. Salvation IS transformation. It must occur within Jesus' disciples before we can see transformation of nature within the Church, not just a systems tune-up. Jesus says that we need to be "born anew" to see His kingdom and defines our identity in terms of his love. Sounds radically transformational to me.

Roger Montgomery

commented on Jun 23, 2013

I enjoyed the 6 points essential for transformational Pastors, and we can all agree that while we want to keep all the people we have they some times leave and we are left feeling ineffective,but adaption must be our first concern, for not only those who are left in our minisitry but for our own Pastoral mindset.

Ojang Ngwa Stephen

commented on Jun 23, 2013

To be a leader is one thing and to be a great leader is another. Thank you for the excepts it will help some of us to be great leaders if not now tomorrow.

Ojang Ngwa Stephen

commented on Jun 23, 2013

To be a leader is one thing and to be a great leader is another. Thank you for the excepts it will help some of us to be great leaders if not now tomorrow.

Jb Bryant

commented on Jun 28, 2013

@Mark Pittman - Amen, my friend. I would love to fellowship with you.

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