Servant Leadership and Adaptive Challenges

In previous blog posts, I explored the relationship between servant leadership and systemic thinking, I also looked at how servant leadership relates to the concept of [[the triple bottom line.

Adaptive Challenge Mechanical Fix

The adaptive challenge always includes a technical component. This aspect is more visible, easier to understand, deal with, and explain. However, as can be scene from the diagram, it is usually a small component of the larger adaptive issue. Therefore tackling it provides little leverage.

In this post I explore the relationship between servant leadership and adaptive challenges.  Let me start by providing an explanation of adaptive challenges and technical issues. In Heifetz’s (2000) work, there is a distinction between adaptive challenges and technical issues; technical issues are issues for which the solutions exist and in which an expert can be brought in to administer the solution. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are problems for which  no solution exists. I can see two relationships between adaptive challenges and servant leadership. First of all, applying servant leadership in and of itself is an adaptive challenge; there is no clear cut solution for how one as an individual or the organization at large can let go of self interest and be in service to others. To have everyone become a servant would “require changes in people’s values, attitudes, or habits of behavior”(Heifetz, 1995, p85).

Secondly, adaptive work has the mindset of service. In his book, Heifetz (1995) describes the role of a doctor who is dealing with a cancer patient who needs a change of behavior. He writes: “The doctor’s authority still provides a resource to help the patient respond, but beyond her substantive knowledge, she needs a different kind of expertise—the ability to help the patient do the work that only he can do” (Heifetz, 1995 P87). Heifetz   makes the same point about the creation of dependency was reached by looking at servant leadership from the systems thinking archetypes. If dependency exists and the servant leader leaves the system or abandons the work, then the organizational adaptive work comes to a full halt.

In servant leadership literature, there is an emphasis on being a servant versus doing servant leadership. By looking at servant leadership as an adaptive challenge, some of this dichotomy is resolved;  adaptive challenges include a technical component: The being includes the doing and transcends it. This applies as much to individuals seeking to be servant leaders as it does to organizations.

Mohammed Raei Facilitating Affinity Mapping Mohammed Raei

Mohammed has experience in R&D, sales, marketing, business development, and quality management. He received a master’s degree in management and leadership and a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Mohammed loves reading, air hockey, shuffle board, and ping pong.

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