Tensions, Learning and Adaptation
There will always be times when uncomfortable tensions arise. Leaders need the courage to challenge unacceptable behaviour and acknowledge their own weaknesses too.
Leaders can help create and model a non-defensive climate of learning, reflection and inquiry where people can give and receive feedback and find a way forward. Effective leaders take time to reflect on their own thoughts, assumptions, feelings and behaviours. This allows them to understand the part they can play, and what is beyond their control or is not a priority to try to change right now.
The Leadership as Learning Framework describes four interwoven dimensions of change: personal, relational, structural and cultural. These are also identified in our Quadrants of Change framework as important areas to pay attention to if we want to impact and sustain transformation in communities.
Leadership is a bit like riding a surfboard on an always moving sea. Sometimes the tides ebb and flow gently and simple habits like being open to feedback help us re-balance. We can go from vulnerable “I don’t know” moments back to our strong selves with relative ease. Other 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, finding our inner strengths and other resources around us, to come up with responses that we may never have thought of before. While it’s not a comfortable place to be in, the collision of these lighter and darker sides actually provides a creative space for innovation, learning and dynamic change.
The centre column of the Leadership as Learning framework reminds us of some of the resources we can draw on to lead us 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 we can apply in the normal movements of the regular tides. These might look like polar opposites, but each has their time, place and use.
The outer two columns identify more destructive responses that can happen if we take 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. 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 these stories and ideas will support you to work with the complexities and messiness of CLD work and encourage you to hang in there to make things happen.