Complementary Frameworks

This page outlines two leadership frameworks that inform the work of the HETI Leadership Unit, and one closely related framework for understanding and working with hidden dynamics that can constrain change. The frameworks are complementary in that each, in different ways, involves “getting underneath” the concrete, overt aspects of organisation and change, to draw out and apply intelligence sitting at more subtle, implicit, below-the-surface levels.

Adaptive leadership

A key idea in adaptive leadership is that the adaptive challenges are different from technical problems. Mostly, in health care organisations and elsewhere, we frame problems as essentially technical and seek to find and install a solution to “solve” the problem. When we apply a technical lens, we tend to reach for a solution that’s within our existing toolset, which can be applied relatively speedily, and which won’t cause too much discomfort. Adaptive leadership emphasises that leadership is different from authority. Anyone can potentially exercise leadership. Doing so, however, requires that individuals “dance on the edge” of their authority; push beyond the expected; be clear about a compelling purpose that’s worth working for; take risks and experiment; and engage at the level of values and beliefs as well as concepts and analysis. Adaptive leadership work represents a challenge to the predominately technical focus of health care organisations, but for those able to step into and actualise this space, the potential for advancing transformational change is great.

Reference: Heifetz, R, Grashow, A, and Linsky, M, 2009. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Harvard Business Review Press.

Leadership-mode action

This framework presents leadership and management as different forms of action for intervening with challenges, particularly contentious ones. When in the leadership mode we act relationally at points in time to help build shared meaning to enable change. This implies taking a “deep dive”; tapping into the implicit, hidden domain, to jointly explore with others “what’s going on” presently and what might desirably be achieved. If you can imagine an issue as an iceberg, the implicit domain is what’s below the waterline; it can’t be seen directly but we can make and test inferences. In doing so, however, we need to allow that other stakeholders are capable of reasonable thought and action. While both leadership and management-mode forms of action are necessary, management-oriented action tends to dominate over leadership action. A toolkit to help practitioners enact leadership-mode action is ARIES (Attending, Reflecting, Inquiring, Expressing, and Synthesising).

Reference: Dunoon, D, 2008, In the Leadership Mode, Trafford.

Immunity to change

This is not a leadership framework as such but is highly relevant to the exercise of leadership. The Immunity model deals with the dynamics by which we – as individuals and groups – can unintentionally thwart our efforts to achieve the changes and improvements we state as important. We tend to, in effect, inoculate ourselves against achieving such changes. A core proposition is that we are driven by “hidden competing commitments”. These are unsurfaced interests or drivers that can lead us to behave in ways that are at odds with, or contrary to, the goals we espouse.

Keegan and Lahey present a 4-column structure for surfacing these hidden dynamics. In the first column we identify an improvement goal we desire, that we say we’re committed to. In the second column, we itemise things we are doing or not doing that are at odds with this stated commitment. The work of the third column is to name and specify those hidden commitments that keep us locked-in to pursuing the second column behaviours (which are contrary to our first column declared commitment). In the fourth column we identify the “big assumptions” that keep us attached to the hidden competing commitments in column 3.

The power of this model is in making explicit the factors and patterns in our own thinking – individually and collectively – that impede us achieving the goals we say matter. Once we surface, make explicit, these competing interests and underlying assumptions we can begin to frame and undertake experiments to test the assumptions. Such assumption testing is necessarily adaptive rather than technical work in nature since we are engaging – in Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky’s terms – “below the neck”, not just at the level of analytic thinking.

Reference: Kegan, R, and Lahey, L 2009, Immunity to Change, Harvard Business Review Press