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The ideas being advanced by Ronald Heifetz, a professor of public leadership at Harvard Kennedy’s School, have been extremely influential in the development of the Kansas Leadership Center’s approach to leadership for the common good. Heifetz, whose was profiled by National Public Radio’s Shankar Vedantam earlier this week, has helped challenge a dominant view that a “leader has the vision and the rest is a sales problem.”

Instead, Heifetz contends that intractable political issues are complicated and require people change their mindsets. People wanting to address these challenges must approach the situation differently, too. They have to help people work through the problem themselves rather than attempt to resolve it for them.

In the NPR story, Heifetz compares the different approaches to a problem to the distinction between the role of a surgeon and that of a psychiatrist.

When a patient comes to a surgeon, the surgeon’s default setting is to say, you’ve got a problem, I’ll take the problem off your shoulders and I’ll deliver back to you a solution. In psychiatry, when a person comes to you with a problem, it’s not your job actually to solve their problem. It’s your job to develop their capacity to solve their own problem.

You can see readily Heifetz’s influence reflected in KLC’s curriculum, including the focus on leadership being an activity, not a role or position, and the emphasis on distiniguishing between technical challenges, which can be solved with expertise, and adaptive challenges, which require learning to address.

Listen to the full story about Heifetz below.

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