/ Monday, July 27 /

The key leadership ideas of Ronald Heifetz (King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at the Kennedy School)

The activity of mobilising the community to tackle tough problems.

Technical problems
Challenges for which we already know the solutions. They generate only temporary stresses and can be solved with knowledge – eg, a faulty car engine.

Adaptive challenges
Problems in which the problem or the solution is not clear-cut. An example would be a patient suffering from heart disease; the patient can be restored to operating capacity but only if he takes responsibility for his health by making appropriate life adjustments. Adaptive work requires learning, and a change in values, beliefs or behaviour.

Equilibrium and disequilibrium
Leaders must balance stability and periods of stress or conflict. Adaptive change tends to require sustained periods of disequilibrium – but it must be carefully paced.

The pressure-cooker metaphor
Used to describe the importance of balancing equilibrium with disequilibrium. If the pressure gets too high, the pressure cooker can blow up. On the other hand, with no heat, nothing cooks.

Work avoidance mechanisms
People often fail to adapt because they want to resist the pain, anxiety or conflict that comes with engagement with the problem. Examples are holding on to past assumptions, blaming authority, scapegoating, denying the problem, jumping to conclusions or finding a distracting issue.

Charismatic authority
In times of distress, the community tends to trust those who appear active, who have a vision, and who promise stability. This can prevent people from engaging with problems when they must. Charismatic authority can generate a mindless following, or can devolve into bureaucratic institutions.

Holding environment
A holding environment is any relationship in which one party has the power to hold the attention of another in order to help them face up to their problems. Franklin Roosevelt and the programmes of the New Deal provided a holding environment for the nation during the Great Depression. The term originated in psychoanalysis to describe the relationship between the therapist and the patient.

Emily Stokes is a journalist currently studying at Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar and the above note was published in the FT.

Copyright © Gaurav Monga