Part 3 – Adaptation

Tensions, Learning and Adaptation:  

graohic-1Inevitably there will be times when uncomfortable tensions arise. Leaders need the moral courage to challenge unacceptable behaviour and acknowledge their own fallibility too. Leaders can help create and model a non-defensive climate of learning, reflection and inquiry in which people can give and receive feedback and find a way forward. Effective leaders take time to reflect on their own patterns of thoughts, assumptions, feelings and behaviours in order to understand the part they can best play, and what is beyond their control or is not a priority to try to change right now.

Leadership is a bit like riding a surfboard on a sea that is always moving. Sometimes the tides ebb and flow gently – and simple habits like being open to feedback help us re-balance from our vulnerable (“I don’t know”) moments, back to our strong selves with relative ease. Then at times, bigger waves dump us into stormier waters. Rip-currents might even push us towards the edge of chaos. We come up against the darker sides, the challenges, the not so helpful behaviours, attitudes, and ways of thinking and acting. To escape from drowning in rip-currents we have to swim in not so obvious directions – away from or parallel to the shore – finding our inner strengths, other resources around us, to create counter-intuitive responses that we may never have thought of before. While it’s not a comfortable place to be in, collision of these lighter and darker sides is actually a creative space for innovation, learning and dynamic change.

The Leadership as Learning Framework conveys these movements around four interwoven dimensions of change: personal, relational, structural and cultural – which are identified in Inspiring Communities’ Quadrants of Change as important areas to pay attention to if we want to impact and sustain transformation in communities.

Download the Leadership as Learning framework so you can refer to it as you work through these threads. You might like to print off the whole framework or just explore one layer at a time online.

The centre column of the framework reminds us of some of the resources we can draw on to lead our way through the normal tides, waves and rip-currents of community leadership.

The inner two columns on either side of the centre show some of the constructive leadership behaviours, attitudes and actions that we apply in the normal movements of the regular tides. Yes they might look like polar opposites, yet each have their time, place and use! Indeed, the polarities need each other. For example, moving between our sense of being strong and feeling vulnerable keeps us real and humble.

The outer two columns identify more destructive responses that can happen if we take the positive leadership responses to any extreme. For example, the dark side of being strong can be a big, controlling ego; the dark side of vulnerable can be paralysing self-doubt. The framework encourages us to not get stuck in any one place but to see this as a sea that needs to keep moving to stay alive, learning, growing and innovating. And as leaders, that means being aware and constantly adapting to what’s needed for each new wave or situation.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these four layers, helping you explore this framework with some reflective questions about what you can do to grow:

  • your own leadership
  • the leadership of others around you
  • the leadership of organisations you work in
  • the leadership of communities you live and work in

Each section includes a fictional story to illustrate the ideas offered. You can also read some of our Inspiring stories that highlight the many amazing things that communities are already doing.

Here we try to unpack some of the “back story” of the leadership challenges and responses that often sit behind such fantastic results. We hope the stories and ideas presented will support you to work with the complexities and messiness of CLD work as the “new normal” and encourage you to hang in there to make things happen!