In the past few years I have had the opportunity to learn from Harvard Kennedy School Professor, Hugh O’Doherty about what leadership means in our times. I paraphrase the definition that Dr. O’Doherty offered in a graduate seminar I took with him:
“Leadership is the capacity to mobilize others to face the repertoire of problems for which we don’t have enough information or the skills to solve. Authority alone doesn’t cut it.
The dilemma of leadership is that there are multiple interpretations of what the problem is and what we should be doing.”
I find this definition so refreshing in its “realness.” There is no fluff or fanfare. In my work with clients, I find that this definition most aligns with their experience of leadership.
Our problems are complex. At times we don’t agree on how to define the problems, let alone agree on what the solutions are. When we look to our usual technical solutions, we don’t find a shelf full of tools for an easy fix. The solutions we are looking for come from the ability to sit in the uncertainty and discomfort of the unknown, to form partnerships and alliances, to deal with conflict, and to adapt to new realities that we have yet to conceive. These adaptive solutions call for deeper, inner capacities and strength to be steadfast and patient for the long run. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And yet we feel like we have to run faster than ever in this lightning speed information world.
So, how do we pace ourselves? How do we find renewal in leadership? Here is a primer gathered from a few areas that Hugh O’Doherty and other leaders in the field of adaptive leadership focus on:
1) Connect to your purpose. Why do you do what you do? Your fire, not the, polished mission statement of your organization. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
2) Get on the balcony to observe the dance floor. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day activity of our worlds. Be an observer once in a while. Step up on the balcony and get another view of what is happening on the dance floor. What’s the music underneath the action? Who is dancing? Who is not? Who’s dancing with who and how?
3) Find sanctuary: space to know yourself, to be quiet, to come back to your center. It would be great if we could go on more retreats up to the mountain tops and return the wise sage. The reality is that these special “retreats” away are few and far between. In the meantime, how do we find sanctuary, inner space to come back to our center, to what we care about, to our purpose.
4) Find and connect to confidants and allies. “The days of the lone wolf are over,” say the Elders of the Hopi Nation. Adaptive challenges call for new partnerships and alliances: coaches, mentors, confidants to support and challenge us, to remind us of what really matters.