Sometimes (usually!) challenges and problems are messier than we first think. Don’t make things worse by jumping in with a solution before understanding what’s really happening. Every situation calling for leadership has elements that are adaptive (focused on hearts, values) and technical (the stuff experts can solve). Treating the adaptive elements as if they were technical just makes things worse. Don’t do that … unless you want more dragons to fight.
With adaptive challenges:
- There is no clear solution. Instead, you need to be ready to learn and understand the situation from multiple perspectives.
- Authority and expertise are not enough. You need all the right stakeholders engaged and ready to exercise leadership.
- The work is not efficient or straightforward. It’s about curiosity, experimentation, and learning.
- Progress rarely happens quickly. It takes time, patience, and a strong sense of purpose.
Too often we treat adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems.
Technical problems are easy to recognize because you know the steps to solve them or can depend on someone else to solve them. Technical problems live in people’s heads. You solve them by gathering facts and using authority or expertise. When the challenge is adaptive, we have to engage with people who think differently than we do. We have to manage our own insecurities to do what is needed rather than what is comfortable. We have to acknowledge the barriers to progress but never let them get us down. We have to think strategically, stay curious, be open to learn, and be ready to experiment to reach our aspirations.
When everyone leads, people throughout your organization are working to distinguish technical and adaptive work.