Using Leadership to Deal with Challenges and Promote Change

Effective new ways of leading and managing are critical for all levels of leadership when an agency is undergoing sweeping systems change. Absolutely essential is the ability to proactively envision and frame opportunities for the agency, as well as drive performance and innovation within teams and among employees agency-wide. Leaders in today’s changing organizations must marshal resources toward adaptation and innovation in the implementation and management of their CQI programs, and must energize and inspire those around them to achieve.

Various leadership models help develop leadership knowledge, skills, and capacity to lead effectively on a day by day basis. Others, such as the Adaptive Leadership model, are particularly effective for significant systems change efforts; they enable organizations to adapt and flourish in complex, challenging environments. The Adaptive Leadership model presents strong evaluative skills and techniques for distinguishing the necessary from the dispensable, having courageous conversationsencouraging experimentation and creativity, tolerating risk-taking and mistakes, and dealing with loss. A capable leader continually and artfully works to bring about real change, embraced by the entire organization, from the status quo.

Adaptive Leadership and other models recognize the value of individual employees and their contributions to the overall success of the organization, and stress that effectively employing a systems change leadership model will lead to much greater engagement of the workforce in the workings of the organization. These leadership models require bold new ways of thinking and responding. Even if managers have developed their own leadership styles over the years, these new skillsets and innovative ways of leading and managing can be practiced and developed.

Note: For more information about Adaptive Leadership, visit the Cambridge Leadership Associates Web site at LINK.

In the change process, one difficulty many leaders have is distinguishing technical from adaptive challenges. Technical challenges are ones that usually belong in the realm of processes or mechanics, or that, with the correct expertise and tools, are generally fixable. In the child welfare world, an example of a technical problem or challenge would be older foster youth attending college who are not receiving their Education and Training Voucher (ETV) checks in a timely way. As a solution, the ETV payment system, and processes of those involved in that system, can be examined and adjustments made so the youth begin receiving their checks on time.

Adaptive challenges are those where solutions often require people to learn new behaviors or change attitudes or beliefs. The ability to distinguish technical challenges from adaptive ones and tailor efforts to meet the challenges is a leadership skill. If technical fixes are employed for a problem and it continues to persist, that should be a clear indication that an underlying adaptive challenge exists.

For example, data may show that the State has issues locating and engaging absent fathers. Leadership initially sees this as a technical problem, and institutes an enhanced parent locator system statewide. However, data continue to show that absent fathers are not being contacted and engaged. After delving deeper into the issue, it becomes apparent that many staff believe that absent fathers contribute limited value to a case and their efforts can be better spent in other ways. It becomes obvious that the issue is a significant adaptive challenge, requiring education of staff so they begin to understand and think in new ways about the value of fathers and paternal relatives to the child.