Book review: Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading
Book review by Shazia Ghazi
Written by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky
In the book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, the author Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky has explained tremendous way that why someone wants to exercise leadership while others not ,it dangers and the solution for the problems while exercising the leadership. I have done a book review of the book leadership on the line as a part of south Asian youth society fellowship challenge 2015-2016.I would suggest every individual to go through it as it will provide you the endowed solution for the problem that individuals encountering on daily basis. The book has divided into three main parts and multiple subparts.
Part 1 the challenge
The heart of danger
Leadership is dangerous, as it requires guiding people through difficult transitions, thereby challenging people’s values, ideas, beliefs, cultural norms, and lifelong habits. Leadership requires a strong determination and patience to bring a change in a society for the betterment of people. It has been observed that people resist change and the change maker i.e. leader. Now the question arises here is that why people go against the leaders and the change they try to bring in the society? According to the Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, people do not resist change they resist loss and no one can bring change without modifying or giving up something valuable. Leadership would be easier if it’s about giving good news to the people but the hope of leadership found in capability to effectively deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a ways that people can absorb, encourage them to take up the massage rather than ignore it or kill the messenger. Assassination is the worst and extreme form of actions what people will do to silence the voice of frustrating realities. Assassination results when people lose the argument in a debate for opposition and considering the leader the issue instead of their rules and regulations.
Pearl of the adaptive change
There are two main problem names as technical and adaptive. Problems for which an organization already had the solutions are referred as technical problems while the problems that require new experiments, new methods, and adjustments from a variety of departments in the organizations and communities are referred as adaptive problems. Leadership failure occurs when leaders start treating adaptive problems as technical problem. Emphasis on technical phases of an issue results in short-term rewards.To encounter adaptive challenges, people have to face a period of painful adjustment. Leading people to make these changes is dangerous, because you are asking them to absorb various forms of loss .People cannot assume at the beginning of the adaptive change whether the new situation will be better than the current or not. What they see is the possibility of loss and look for leaders for solutions so they often avoid painful adjustments and place the burden on someone else shoulder or call someone to rescues them. When people ask the authorities for easy answers to adaptive challenges they often end up in disappointment. This demands the leader possess the time, presence and great communication skills. There is a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change. The deeper the change the greater the amount of new learning required, the greater resistance there will be and the greater the danger to those who lead. For this reason people often try to avoid the dangers either intentionally or unintentionally by treating adaptive challenges as if it were technical ones. This is why we see much more routine management than leadership in our society.
Going beyond your authority
Leadership is not same as authority or going beyond your authority is not a leadership. Exceeding authority to expose deep seated problems towards positive change is an example of adaptive leadership. The first challenge and risk of exercising leadership is to go beyond the authority. Thus, leadership needs disturbing people but at a rate, they can absorb.Moreover, leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to handle the current problems. People push back when you disturb the personal and institution equilibrium they know. And people resist in all kinds of creative and unexpected ways that can get keep you away from bringing the change. Throughout human history, most of the greatest leaders were eliminated precisely because they were perceived to be intolerable threats
At the heart of danger is loss
It is very interesting to see that people resist when leaders tries to change habits, values and attitudes that only hold them back. The author explains that organization, communities or individual resist changing their values, habits, or attitudes because they become the part of their identity even if they are harmful for them. By doing so we are challenging how people see themselves and their lifestyle.
Habits are hard to abandon because they gain stability. Sometimes people know the bad consequences of habits but they don’t bother to give up because they are looking for the present happiness they are receiving from that habit for example cigarette. On the other hand some beliefs attitudes and habits have been adopted from some loves ones or ancestors so they assumed that abandoning these habits means showing disloyalty to their loved ones. Adaptive change stimulates resistance because it challenges people habits,attitude and values. In adaptive change it is compulsory to face a loss, experience uncertainty and even show disloyalty to loved ones. To avoid experiencing these changes they resist change.
Dangers of leadership
Each organization and societies have their own preferred way of maintaining equilibrium when someone tries to change this equilibrium they tries to stop the person in order to preserve what they have. While exercising leadership there is a greater risk of getting marginalized, seduced, diverted or attacked. When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise. There are some tactics to help you reduce your risk of disrupting but you need to understand what the risks.
In marginalization people find their positonof authority suddenly stripped of its full power. This is when either your importance as the leader or the importance of your issue decreases with stakeholders
Seduction is when opponents try to persuade you or treat you as special. They try to win you in one side and the other side they keep you away from your base or your commitment to the adaptive challenge. Their ultimate and unspoken goal is to avoid the tough work and the change required.
Another thing that can happen is that you get extra work dumped on your shoulders which serves to distract and divert you from the uncomfortable adaptive challenge you’re trying to address. It can be easy to get caught up in diversions and then fail at the necessary adaptive work.
Leaders often face personal attacks on themselves or their families from those who resist the changes or the adaptive issue. The intention of their attack is to divert the attention from the adaptive change to the attack.
The form of resistance may be different but the ultimate goal of the opposition is to keep the leader away from the adaptive change.
Part two: The response
Here are some skills needed to respond to the resistance and dangers of adaptive leadership:
Get on the Balcony
This involves being in the both places simultaneously i.e. at the dance floor and balcony, which means while you are in the dance floor you need to the see the action of other as well as yours from the balcony to see the system and pattern while considering yourself as a part of system. Becoming observer while you are participant is very difficult task to achieve and hard to learn. For doing all this you need to stand back from the action and keep watching the scenario while being part of the action as an observer. This is important to clear and minimize the misconceptions and avoid the problem that possibly be going to create in a near future. The basic purposes of getting on the balcony are distinguishing technical from adaptive challenges, find out where people are at, listen to the song beneath the words and read the behavior of authority figures.
There are some possible interpretations of why some people are being ignored or rendered invisible in formal or informal gathering. Which involves styles for example sometime speaking in unexpected convictions, power and too much aggressive self-assurance with people who have high regards for humility can reduce credibility and aggravate others to create unfavorable conditions. Track record role and reputation in your personal and professional life can maters how people receive the person and his issues. Ripeness some people caught the issues before the whole group can understand so the rest of group have lack of familiarity with the issue to deal so they ignore the issue until their insight will ripe. Status people pay more attention to who are in hierarchy i.e. on higher positions. Prejudice sometimes norms, values can alter the situation by creating difference in a group e.g. gender, color, creed, religion.Style, Track Record, Ripeness, can be handled and correct by the individual by modifying his way of communication but Status and Prejudice cannot be handled by the person himself.
Most of the problems come bundled with both technical and adaptive aspects. Before making an intervention, it is necessary to distinguish between them in order to decide which to tackle first and with what strategy. One can distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges by a process of exclusion.If someone tries to solve the problems with all the technical solution and still fail to sort it out then the underlying problem is adaptive. The persistence of conflict usually indicates that people have not yet made the modifications and accepted the losses that accompany adaptive change.Crisis is a good indicator of adaptive issues that have irritated. A crisis represents danger because the stakes are high, time appears short, and the uncertainties are great. Yet they also represent opportunities if they are used to stimulate attention on the unresolved issues. Sudden crises tend to include both technical and adaptive parts. Consequently, you will face a lot of pressure, both external and internal, to see the crisis as a technical problem, with straightforward solutions that can quickly restore order, even if it means ignoring the adaptive issues and focusing on only the technical fixes.
Find Out Where People Are At
Getting people in a community or organization to address a deeply felt issue is difficult and risky. If people have avoided a problem for a long time, it should not be surprising that they try to silence you when you push them to face it. In an adaptive challenge, people have to learn new ways, deal with their hearts and minds and choose between what appear to be contradictory values. So, it is important to find out where people are at actually, what is the common ground between our and their vision or need and what are the values that effect and move them more radically. When we are aware about all these, we can surely think for a better work plan to move them from where they are rather than where we are at.
Listen to the Song beneath the Words
Beware of making interpretations immediately and aloud, since this can provoke strong reactions.it is important to take a deep view and think thoughtfully on others responses that what they say and why they say after analyzing it in a favorable condition one should respond appropriately.
Read the Authority Figure for Clues When someone seek to initiate significant change within an organization or community, focus on the words and behavior of the authority figure; they provide a critical signal about the impact of action on the organization as a whole. The senior authority will reflect what you are implementing in a community and their behavior is the clue to the level of distress and path to restoring equilibrium.
One of the distinguishing potentials of successful people who lead in any field is the emphasis they place on personal relationships .The connection or relationship with the people who are in the game and out of the game are the determinants of the result and plays vital role than any other thing while performing a task. There are six essential components of thinking politically in exercise of leadership firstly for the people who are your allies or with you in dealing the issue, second for managing who are in opposition and remaining four components are for those who are uncommitted but wary the people one trying to move or make allies.
Affiliating on an issue means giving up some autonomy and sharing it with your partner causing both you and your potential partners some degree of reluctance about getting together. Moreover, developing trust takes the time and the perseverance to move productively through conflicts. But without working together, your efforts experience greater risk. But even people with great authority and a powerful vision need partners when they are trying to bring about deep change in a community. Partners who are members of the faction for whom the change is most difficult can make a huge difference. These intelligences can enabled each of them to monitor what was happening in pockets of resistance, but they were much more effective advocates and useful lightning rods within their own camps.
Keep the opposition close
Towithstand and flourish in exercising leadership one must work as closely with opponents as with allies. Many times we try to find easy ways, ignoring opponents and concentrating on building a favorable partnership. Instead of doing that one must judge their anxiety as susceptibility and the signal of threat the given to the opposition and move ahead
Accept Responsibility for Your Piece of the Mess.
This implies that one who is leading should identify and accept the responsibility of their contribution in the present situation. If the leading person and the group facing the problem together and understand their responsibilities then there is no one who can defeat them.
Acknowledge Their Loss.
When change makers ask people to do an adaptive work that means they are asking too much from the people i.e. close the distance between their supported values and their actual behavior. People are ready to give sacrifices when they know the reason for the sacrifice. Furthermore it is necessary to name and acknowledge the loss itself. People need to know that you know what you are asking them to give up on the way to creating a better future. Make explicit your apprehension that the change you are asking them to make is demanding, and that what you are asking them to give up has real value
Model the Behavior.
Just verbal acknowledgement would not sufficient to acknowledge the loss one asking from the people. One needs to modify the behavior to acknowledge the losses to encourage them to give their best in the action. Model the behavior you desire is the most powerful tool to acknowledge the loss. Even a symbolic modeling can have a vital impact and motivating the followers to do the same.
Accepting casualties indicates commitment. People seeking to exercise leadership can be dissatisfied because in their unwillingness to take casualties, they give people mixed signals. The single warrior myth of leadership is a sure route to heroic suicide so they need partners. Losses or causalities are the byproduct of adaptive work. An aversion to casualties presents an invitation to push your perspective aside.
Orchestrate the Conflict.
When someone is handling the critical issues in a group it is certain that there is a change of conflict to rise. It is by nature that human being has natural aversion to conflict so no one wants to create conflict intentionally and they give their best to resolve it. But in some conditions it is hard to control on conflicts that lead to destructive changes in an organization or communitiesand sometimesconflicts make your clear about your vision and create dedication in one’s life. The real meaning of adaptive leader is to orchestrate the conflict instead of becoming the part of it. Furthermore there are many ways to orchestrate the conflictsand the primary approach is creating a holding environment to contain and adjust the heat that is generated by addressing difficult issues or wide value differences. A holding environment is a space formed by a network of relationships within which people can tackle tough, sometimes disruptive questions without flying apart. In a holding environment with structural, procedural, or virtual boundaries, people feel safe enough to address problems that are difficult, not only because they strain ingenuity, but also because they strain relationships.Secondly it is not possible to maintain the favorable environment through out, a time will come when it became necessary to bring conflict on the surface. Changes generate tension and produces heat thus managing change needs controlling temperature. Temperature can be controlled by rising the heat i.e. The first is to raise the heat by drawing attention to the tough questions, give responsibility more than they are comfortable with, bring conflict to the surface so that people will sit up, pay attention, and deal with the real threats and challenges they are facing. The second is to lower the temperature by addressing the technical aspect of the problem, establish a structure for the problem-solving process by breaking the problem into parts and creating time frames, decision rules, and clear role assignments,temporarily reclaim responsibility for the tough issues, create humor and take breaks to reduce a counterproductive level of tension. The heat must stay within a tolerable range not so high that people demand it be turned off completely, and not so low that they are lulled into delay. This is called the productive range of distress. At last it is necessary for adaptive leadership and leader to manage/ orchestrate the conflict without becoming the part of it.
Pace the work
Leadership requires emotional as well conceptual work. When leaders or those in authorities lead people through difficult change it means they take them on emotional coaster because they ask them to abandon some valuable able thing that they were holding i.e. values beliefs, behaviors. People can only withstand some specific amount of change at time while by enforcing too much change too soon bring revolt and make survival difficult. Pacing usually requires people in authority to let their ideas and programs seep out a little at a time, so they can be absorbed slowly enough to be tested and accepted. To avoid the expected unfavorable issues there are some ways which involves postponing the most provocative and threatening issues, draw out the processes so that people would not face too much too soon this shouldn’t seems avoidance but it is a positive strategy to prepare group for adaptive work. In addition to that it is compulsory to reinforce the group on regular basis that they are getting worthy things in future against the losses they are facing in current situation.Revealing the future is an extremely useful way to mobilize adaptive work and yet avoid becoming the target of resistance. If people can sight the future, they are much less likely to fixate on what they might have to shed.
Give the work back.
It is something really become culture to take the others responsibilities on one’s own shoulders and feel pride for it but shouldering the adaptive work of others is risky as they will charge you responsible for the disequilibrium generate in a process. Apart from that when someone is involving in resolving any issue people start taking the person himself issues. Surviving in leadership requires avoid being the cause of frustration for the people. It is necessary to take the work off our shoulders and place it where it belongs to in right place and among the right people. It should be make them understand that people with problems should become the people with solutions. Keep working with the people who are having problems and need solutions without personalizing it. Four types of interventions start the tactics of leadership; making observations, asking questions, offering interpretations, and taking actions. Observations are simply statements that reflect back to people, their behavior or attempt to describe current conditions. They shift the group momentarily onto the balcony so that they can get a little distance from and perspective on what they are doing. The question may have the effect of giving the work back to the group and it is important to take caution while questioning because it may become a loaded question and loaded question can frustrate the people. Interpretations are inherently provocative and raise the heat. People by and large do not like to have their statements or actions interpreted unless they like your assessment. When you make an interpretation you disclose that you spend time in the balcony and that makes people suspicious that you are not in the balcony and people think you are somehow above them. Actions as interventions can complicate situations because they frequently are susceptible to more than one interpretation. Actions draw attention, but the message and the context must be crystal clear. If not, they are likely to distract people and displace responsibility so it is necessary to clear the message and content.
Holding steady in the heat of action is an essential skill for staying alive and keeping people focused on the work.Holding steady and receiving people’s anger without becoming defensive generates trust. Taking heat with elegance communicates respect for the pains of change. If you hold steady long enough remaining respectful of their pains and defending your perspectives without felling you must defend yourself you may found that in ensuing calm, relationship become stronger. Furthermore escalating issues before they are ready to be addressed creates opportunity for those you lead to sideline you and the issue. What determines when, or whether, an issue becomes ripe? Four key questions; what else is on people’s mind? How deeply are people affected by the problem? How much do people need to learn? What are the senior authority figures saying about the issue? First, what else is on people’s minds? If most of the people in your organization are handling a crisis, you may have greater difficulty getting them to shift their attention to the issue you think is most important. Sometimes you can get a better hearing by postponing your issue to a later time. However, if you notice that there is never a time for our issue, you may have to create the opportunity by developing a strategy for generating urgency. Second how deeply are people affected by the problem? If people do not feel the touch of reality, they are unlikely to feel the need to change. Third, how much must people learn in order to make judgments? The lack of knowledge on an issue is almost always in direct proportion to its lack of ripeness. If you do not take into consideration how difficult the learning will be, the organizations or community will box you off as an outcast, impractical unrealistic, or worse. You may have to take baby steps. Fourth what are the people in authority saying and doing? Although the rhetoric and even the commitment of authorities often are not enough by themselves to ripen an issue they always figure significantly. Inaddition it is important to focus attention on the current issue but people always try to avoid the difficult tasks of adaptive change through work avoidance mechanisms such as denial and throughdifferent tactics i.e. reorganizing, blaming, character assassination and passing off responsibility. Effective leadership requires holding steady, counteracting these tactics and redirecting attention to the problem.
Part three:Body and soul
Manage your hungers
The cleanest way for an organization to bring you down is to let you bring yourself down. Everyone needs some level of power and control, affirmation and recognition, intimacy and satisfaction. Managing these hungers is an individual responsibility otherwise they will cause them to act unwisely, purposefully as it is easy to catch up in the action of others and lose wisdom, discipline and control. Adaptive leadership requires discipline giving into inducement destroy one’s capacity to lead. Hunger for power is in every human and too much of it leads leader to destroy them. Followers give power and in return they demand service thus they were the first to revoked. Furthermore when leading some people will affirm with the views and others will oppose. It is the normal behaviors of human to show ignorance behavior to the opposition but for the adaptive leadership it is important to keep the opposition close and there are many reasons to keep the opposition close which includes one need to comprehend them, learn from them, challenge them productively, and certainly, be alert to attack. But it is just as important to keep a critical check on the positive feedback you receive. We all need affirmation, but accepting honors in an undisciplined way can lead to grandiosity, an exaggerated view of yourself and your cause. A hunger for importance can make you discount obvious warnings that you are in danger. Managing one’s grandiosity means giving up the idea of being the heroic lone warrior who saves the day. People may beg you to play that role; don’t let them seduce you. Acknowledging the limits of your competence is a way to stay open to learning as you blaze a trail. How do you learn to manage such instinctual hungers? First, know yourself, tell yourself the truth about what you need, and then appropriately honor those human needs. Every human being needs power and control, affirmation and importance, intimacy and delight. You cannot lead and stay alive by simply putting a silencer on yourself. The point is simply to understand more compassionately our hungers and vulnerabilities. But giving in to the hunger is as sure an indication as any that you are out of control, taking advantage of people, and molesting your position. In addition to that human being need intimacy that makes them vulnerable while fulfilling. It is important to keep our personal and professional life separate so that we could not be vulnerable to attack by our opposition but our personal relation should also be managed in a healthy way.
Anchor your self
To anchor ourselves it is important to distinguish between self (we can anchor) and role (we cannot anchor).Self relies on the ability to witness, learn and improve core values but roles are dependent on the roles of others. It is easy to confuse yourself with the roles you take on in your organization and community. The world colludes in the confusion by reinforcing your professional persona, Colleagues, subordinates and bosses treat you as if the role you play is the essence of you, the real you. Confusing the role with self is a trap. Anchoring oneself may enable them to sustain the violent opposition even of own friends and former collaborators, who may change one role from a darling to an outsider in overnight. If you can anchor yourself, you may find the determination to remain gentle, focused, and persistent.Furthermore it is vital to understand that when you lead people they don’t love or hate you. Mostly they even don’t know you. They love or hate the positions you represent.
In order to exercise leadership it is important to keep both allies and confidents. Allies are one’s who share some ideas values and even some strategies of the person who lead and most important to remember is that allies are not always loyal as they have other ties to honor. Allies only accompany us in the working agenda. Allies can pull you by the collar and force you onto balcony while the confident will be with us in outside working agenda one can reveal their emotions to them without worrying that it will affect their reputation or undermine their work. Leader does not have to manage information and can speak spontaneously. Confident can put you back together at the end of the day when you all broken up into pieces they care more about you then issue. It’s important to differentiate between allies and confidantes because when someone tries to turn allies into confidants it means they put them in a predicament, place a valuable relationship at risk, and usually end up losing on both counts. They fail you as a confidant, and they begin to slip away even as reliable allies.Provision of sanctuary in a predicament situation provides an indispensable physical anchor and source of sustenance. It is not a place to hide, but a place to reflection where you can cool down, capture lessons from the painful moments, and put yourself back together. Most leaders put themselves in leadership without conserving a place for them to restore.Furthermore it is necessary to have a safe place for reflection readily available. Sometime people mixed sanctuary and balcony but it is different in a way that you are listening to yourself, reflect back on what you have done so far and re-affirm your deeper sense of self and purpose while in balcony you are gaining a wider perspective on organizational issues may be it is different from what you were imagining while you were in dance floor. We all need anchor to keep us from being swept away by the distractions, flood of information, the temptations and the tensions.
What’s on the Line?
So far we have erudite that leadership is very difficult to exercise but still some people want to lead people. Now the question is why they want to lead? Why people put their selves on the line? Why keep insisting forward when the resistance seems unbearable? The answer to this question is simple butprofound. It gives meaning to their life by connecting to others in a significant way. The word use for this kind of connection is love.Love gives meaning to what you do whether in collaboration, a community, a classroom, or a family. To some, talking about love in this contest may seem soft and unprofessional, but the fact that love lies at the core of what makes life worth living is irrefutable. Love gives meaning to what you do. We take risks for some worthy reasons and we expectto bring positive difference in people’s lives. We want to bring positive change in people lives because we care about them. Leadership is a labor of love and the heart of leadership comes from feeling the bonds those you love you care. Furthermore every human being acquired opportunities every day in their lives for the labor of love and seizing these opportunities takes heart .As we know that nature of every individual is not same there are some people who refuse to lead even when they got a chance now the question is why? The reason is that people get stuck in the myth of measurement. Measurement is an extraordinary useful device but no one can measure what makes life worthwhile.There are some individual and some cultural values that contribute into it i.e.there is powerful pressure in our culture to measure the fruits of our labors, and we feel enormous superiority as we take on inordinate responsibility and gain inordinate authority, wealth, and prestige. One cannot measure the good that they do. Now it depends on every individual that whether they want to exercise leadership or not on the basis of personal priorities and values.
Exercising leadership is hard but it is the expression of aliveness and does not come without pain. While leading there is a possibility that a leader could be beaten up, putdown or silenced and desire to lead can be seep away.This could be result in covering up oneself and would loss innocence, curiosity, compassionand become Cynicism arrogance and callous and these felling destroy the capacity to lead, disabling the life experience.The most difficult work of leadership involves learning to experience distress without numbing oneself. The virtue of a sacred heart lies in the courage to maintain your innocence and wonder, your doubt and curiosity, and your compassion and love even through your darkest, most difficult moments. The power of secret heart helps you and others to find the courage to endure the pain of change without running away. Innocence is the capacity to entertain silly ideas, think unusual and perhaps creative thoughts, and be playful in your life and work, even to be strange to your organization or community. Itfosters the consideration of creative solutions but can be diminish with the passage of time and to maintain innocence it is necessary to have a mechanism to rebuild or reconnect with it.To succeed in leading adaptive change, you will need to nurture the capacity to listen with open ears, and to embrace new and disturbing ideas. Thus it requires continuously questioning about everything and being curious to get new knowledge. Compassion plays significant role in the adaptive leadership as it enables leaders to feel the others pain, losses and pay attention to it even when there are no ways to find a solution. It allows you to triage your attention, skill, care to those who are in real need. it is necessary for success, survival and for leading a whole life.
About the author: Shazia Ghazi is graduate of nursing (BScN) from Aga Khan University Hospital healing from Gilgit Baltistan. She is member at South Asian Youth Society.