Why board directors need new leadership skills to challenge the power in the boardroom.

The unique adaptive challenge that Boards face is speaking truth to power.  

The highly nuanced definition of the Chairperson as ‘first among equals’ represents a deliciously ambiguous power. Combining that paradoxical definition with the personal power and prestige of the individual can result in a Board reluctant to challenge the voice of the Chair.

The real dereliction of duty on a Board is silence when dissent is useful and constructive.

Sarah Rouhan recently spoke with Rosamund Christie from Adaptive Leadership Australia about the role and importance of adaptive leadership in the Boardroom and C-Suite.

S – What inspires you to build adaptive leadership in Boards and C Suites?

R – True cultural change in an organisation is inspired by those who work at the very top of an organisation – in both executive branches (C-suite and Board). Working with only one of the executive branches exposes vulnerabilities in the system.  There is a tendency at both levels to think there is no more to be learnt about leadership. Board and C-suite positions are in themselves recognition of earlier success.  This can be an impediment to good practice.  There is always more to be learnt and a deliberately developmental organisation has learning in its DNA. Most importantly it is the capacity of senior groups to work with the human dynamics of the particular context of the moment.  

Boards and C-suite groups often limit their effectiveness because there is an idea that what worked well for me at another organisation or Board will work here.  That fallacy is true at both strategic and cultural levels.  We often see great success by individuals in one context lead to abject failure in another.  Developing capability to work with the particular human system you are in, at this point in the organisation’s history, with the external pressures at this moment in time,  and having a consciousness and deliberateness about this, is what makes for successful Boards and C-suites.  When the Board and the Executive group share the same language and practices around leadership, there is potential for this to filter down throughout the organisation and we know that culture drives performance so building an adaptive culture is … well, it’s just really a no brainer.

S – Why now?

R – Boards and their relationship to the C-suites are at a critical juncture at this moment in time.  The Royal Commission into Banking has revealed failures at the very highest levels in blue chip companies with the threat of criminal proceedings hanging over some.  The ABC Board and CEO effectively self-immolated. The Australian Cricket Board brought disrepute to the game.  And so it goes on.  If this can happen within the most prestigious Boardrooms in Australia, it reminds us that there is work to be done at every level. 

S – When you think about the challenges facing both the Board and the Executive team are they the same or different?

R – We see each as having both shared and unique challenges. More importantly, we see these as adaptive because they require the system of people to adapt to the context and challenges unique to their industry and organisation at any one time. Constant adaptation is a key mindset required for companies to thrive.  Organisations are hungry for innovation and agility in the development of their products and services but they rarely think about these practices as equally crucial to their leadership work. 

S – Well what are some of those unique challenges? 

The unique adaptive challenge that Boards face is speaking truth to power.  The highly nuanced definition of the Chairperson as ‘first among equals’ represents a deliciously ambiguous power. Combining that paradoxical definition with the personal power and prestige of the individual can result in a Board reluctant to challenge the voice of the Chair.  The real dereliction of duty on a Board is silence when dissent is useful and constructive.  But managing dissent is often a major obstacle.  We teach groups to voice opposition with neutrality and compassion and to keep purpose at the heart of what they are doing. 

On the other hand, the unique adaptive challenge that members of an Executive Team face is building a collective Executive Team culture whilst simultaneously representing a single portfolio.  Many Executives struggle to determine where their chief allegiance lies.  Managing the plurality of these roles and not privileging one over the other is a key determiner of successful executive teams. The culture of the team as a cohesive whole impacts the culture and motivation of the entire organisation.

Add those adaptive challenges together and throw in the relationship that exists between the Board and the Executive team and we begin to see that there is much work to be done.  

How do you at Adaptive Leadership Australia work with Boards and C-Suite groups?

We begin with each separately and then bring them together.  We often start with Culture Surveys to help each group recognise how others see them as a collective.  It is a great starting point for building adaptive cultures.  We build a collective consciousness, stressing the challenge of speaking as one AND speaking out.  We find it is rare for this kind of complexity to be spoken about, let alone be addressed and yet everyone recognises that what sits under the surface of a group is the real work to be done.  We find this such stimulating work because it develops the capacity for groups to look at themselves as a system and to build a way of calling themselves out so that they become self-regulating in the most productive way.


Australian Adaptive Leadership Program

Find our more about the 2019 Australian Adaptive Leadership Program commencing in May. Applications Close on 31st March 2019.

Interview with Beck Ronkson – Adaptive Leadership Alumnus

We were fortunate to be able to interview Beck Ronkson 
- Community Leadership Consultant – Group Facilitator, Coach and Counsellor, and Alumnus of the Sydney Leadership Program (now Adaptive Leadership Australia) who provided her personal insights into the value and benefits of participating in the Australian Adaptive Leadership Program.

Beck tell us how has the Adaptive Leadership Model has informed your leadership practice?

Beck Ronkson

The Adaptive Model has provided a tremendous ‘value add’ to my leadership practice in so many ways.  The foundational concepts and principles of the model are so valuable and readily applicable to my work in different contexts, whether I’m working for the community not-for-profit sector or government.

I previously ran a small not-for-profit working creatively in the Homelessness sector.  I now consult with, co-design programs and coach community organisations and government on issues such as community engagement, community leadership and collective impact.  Much of it involves walking alongside people to bring awareness to what is happening on a systemic level. Particularly bringing awareness of their role in that, before building capacity in collaborative practices to harness the collective and creative power they have at their disposal.  It’s a long way from my early understanding of a leader as ‘the person at the top’!

The first thing that comes to mind about the ‘value-add’ of the Adaptive model is the value of orienting to purpose.  Clarifying purpose at the outset guides everything I do.  Getting consensus regarding the purpose of what I’m doing in facilitating groups and teams, can be time consuming initially, but this investment at the beginning of the work saves so much time further down the track.  It adds intentionality to my time, my client’s and their stakeholders’ time, and paradoxically it’s an invaluable time saver.

The second thing that I’d like to highlight is the value of thinking systemically. I did Sydney Leadership in 2008 and at the end of the course we wrote a letter to ourselves about what we’d like to focus on and achieve in our leadership practice over the next five years.  I came across that letter a few weeks back.  It’s ten years later and my advice is as relevant for me today as it was then.  It was to keep my leadership practice focused on systems thinking because that is where change happens.  I am still regularly using the concept of the ‘balcony and the dance floor’.

It involves looking in from the outside to see what’s happening in the system whilst simultaneously observing the impact of my interventions.

In my recent work with a large social services provider the application of role theory was another valuable tool for eliminating blame and making progress with the issues.  The service provider’s workers and consumers were in an emotional conflict.  The identification of roles re-oriented the whole system back to purpose and took the heat out of the interpersonal dynamics.  Reference back to role rather than individuals provided a means of ‘externalising’ the problem and allowed stakeholders to look systemically, rather than only looking interpersonally.

Understanding the influence and interplay of different types of rank and power was also helpful. We mapped the system including management, staff and consumers.  It highlighted who was central and who was marginalized in various parts of the system.  This provided more of a shared understanding between all stakeholders and gave a sense of meaning to their experience.  It provided more detachment and perspective.  It also revealed the tension spots and showed possible points to intervene to build capacity in the system.

The adaptive leadership model gave us a shared language to talk about, plan and resource this capacity building in different parts of the system.  A shared language improved our capacity to listen, hear, understand and engage with each other.  The ‘balcony dance floor’ metaphor gave us a great analytical tool to deal with tricky spots.  Stakeholders asked themselves and each other about whether they were on the ‘balcony or dance floor’ in the moment.

Getting on the ‘balcony’ relieved emotions and diffused conflict so we could focus on building collaborative structures.  It is an excellent tool particularly in the context of different levels of rank between service providers and consumers.  It created a more level playing field for engagement. Consumers loved it and responded to the challenge.  The service provider managers loved it and are now rolling it out to all staff.

Of all the Adaptive Leadership tools, one of the most simple, but probably the most important for my work is the distinction between adaptive and technical problems.  As Einstein said the definition of insanity is when something isn’t working and we keep doing the same thing, expecting the outcome to be different.  Knowing the difference between adaptive and technical problems and learning how to identify what is an adaptive versus technical issue gave me a whole new lens into my work for making progress and improving positive social impact.  Understanding that Adaptive problems will not respond to technical fixes is a relieving and hopeful way to make progress in the diagnostic phase.

Knowing that the people who are most impacted by the problem must be part of the solution makes good common sense.‘Nothing about us without us’ is such a useful guideline.  Community engagement involves inviting all voices, especially unusual voices, to the table as a bottom line principle.  Having an Adaptive map with signposts for making progress must include building collaboration.  Working across factions with different values, loyalties and agendas is completely embedded in my practice now.  Making progress relies on setting up the foundation for this collaboration.  The skills of empathy, strategic questioning, reflective listening and curiosity about the values that drive people are crucial here.

Transparency about the core values at the table is a great leveller.  If we don’t get down to core values we don’t get to establish common ground.  Surfacing core values and drivers is the way to build collaboration.  I spend a lot of time seeking to deeply understand the core values of all sides and polarities in the system I’m working with.  It’s a dance with old and new moves.

Another key element of the Adaptive Leadership model that has really influenced my leadership work is the value of knowing about the transactional role of authority.  Understanding that the work of authority involves a transaction of power in return for services (such as the provision of direction, protection and order) was an eye opener for me.

It particularly helped me to toughen up as a leadership practitioner. Ironically knowing that in the role of authority I am never going to meet the expectations that are loaded onto the role, that inevitably I am going to fail, really helps me.  I tend to be an idealist and as such I was very vulnerable to being knocked out by attack.  This new way of understanding the role of authority grew my leadership muscles.

I also have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and for many years I’d be the one out on a limb as it was being sawn off.  The important leadership principle of mobilising others to lead and bringing people along is far more sustainable and much more protective when under attack.  It means that I am still functional at the end of a tough day.  Before doing Sydney Leadership I regularly experienced being wiped out.  I now know that I need a dose of realism informed by awareness as a counterpoint to my idealism.  It’s a protective mechanism for me as well as the organisation.

I’m acutely aware of the need to and how to set up scaffolding before intervening in a high-risk community development situation where the stakes are high. I used to be an enthusiastic ‘doer’ and dive in.  Whilst that is also needed, it’s timing, timing and timing.  Over the years, I’ve come to understand how important spending time on the diagnostic part of the scenario is – it’s what’s often missing (quick we need to make a decision!) and yet absolutely vital to bring about real and lasting social change.


Find our more about the 2019 Australian Adaptive Leadership Program commencing in May. Applications Close on 31st March 2019.

Interview with Beck Ronkson

Coaching. Capacity Building. Creativity.

 https://www.linkedin.com/in/beck-ronkson |  m: 0468 390 273

Conflict is necessary in times of complexity.

Conflict is the medicine business needs.

Never has Australia needed the mindset and skills of adaptive leadership in its organisational cultures than it does right now. The Royal Commission has shone a spotlight on individual responsibility in creating cultures of trust. We have watched as old leadership models of power and entitlement have revealed a toxic sub-culture that exists within our major institutions.

It is easy to turn away from the examples and rhetoric of the banks but all cultures benefit from holding the mirror up to what is going on at home.

Complexity is to hold valid competing commitments. Adaptive organisations build cultures that embrace contradictions, and work productively as opposed to working against one another. Complex issues by definition are not easy to solve and require the workforce to be mobilised to share in the responsibility

WHAT is an adaptive organisation?
Firstly, an adaptive organisation faces contradictory, complex issues and builds both a cultural mindset and the technical capability to deal with them.
It manages the disruption of competing commitments.

What are the big competing commitments facing organisations today?

  1. commitment to customer/client (product and experience) AND to shareholder/stakeholder (investment value)
  2. commitment to innovation AND to systems set up to mitigate risk
  3. commitment to the outcome AND to the process
  4. commitment to strategic initiatives AND to business as usual
  5. commitment to new technologies AND to maintaining stability for stakeholders

The AND in those statements represent the contradictions of two or more conflicting values that must co-exist and not compete in order for organisations to flourish. Organisations use the rhetoric of innovation, but have neither the operations or culture set up for people to fail, or to take risks. There is often a strong legal department whose role is to mitigate risk on behalf of the organisation.

Secondly, an adaptive organisation doesn’t hold up the leader as the saviour, creating dependence and encouraging a culture of blame. When you hear the words “someone needs to show leadership around here” you know it is not an adaptive culture. That phrase reveals an expectation that someone will have all the answers. We are interested in creating the skills that distribute leadership and enable the wisdom that exists throughout the organisation to be heard and to contribute. This is not to diminish the authority of the people at the top but to use that authority to create the conditions to mobilise the efforts of all in solving complex issues.

Thirdly, an Adaptive workforce is mobilised to raise issues and engage in conflict, and is trained to do that with neutrality and compassion. The culture sits comfortably with ambiguity.

Develop your Adaptive Leadership skills. Applications are now open for the Australian Adaptive Leadership Program commencing in May 2019. Applications Close March 31. Click through for more information.

Australian Adaptive Leadership Program

Leadership in an Uncertain World

Interview with Greg Johnson – Stockland

Greg Johnson currently holds the role of National Sustainability Manager, Commercial Property at Stockland – one of Australia’s largest property developers responsible for retail town centres, logistics centres, office and business parks, residential and retirement communities. I caught up with Greg to see how his Adaptive Leadership learning has impacted his leadership, and his role within the business. He shared great insights into Stockland and into his own personal learning.

Download the interview here.

 Greg Johnson National Sustainability Manager

JA:  Hi Greg – here’s my first question to you: what keeps you at Stockland?

I feel really fortunate to work for an organization that has a clear purpose and values. At Stockland – our purpose is clear – which is that “We believe there is a better way to live”. It’s only one line, but it says a lot and it is inclusive. And I think for me, what I’ve learned from the Adaptive Leadership work that I’ve done, is that it’s this purpose that guides leadership.

As the sustainability manager in an organisation that has both a clear purpose and focus areas, I can hitch my wagon to that and I can hold the organisation to account for that stated purpose.

So if we do what we do in sustainability cleverly, so that it’s aligned to both purpose and values while at the same time addressing the key material issues that impact Stockland’s existence as an organisation, then we deliver shared value. We achieve both a return to investors, and a return to the community.

JA:  How does that translate into action?

In believing there is a better way to live, as an organisation we focus on two key areas – Community and Environment. In ‘Community’ we focus on health and well-being, education, and community connection, which is a sense of belonging. For ‘Environment’, that’s probably a little more technical. It includes energy and carbon, waste and materials, water quality, and biodiversity. Both initiatives do have their own adaptive challenges and I guess that’s a big part of the learning as well.

We also focus on creating communities that are liveable. We aim to create communities where the people that live there, feel they belong. And if we do that well, then certainly there’s a benefit to the communities that live in those environments. And, if we’re creating liveable communities that people aspire to live in, more people will want to live there – which ultimately drives up the value for Stockland.

JA: What other adaptive challenges do you see in your sector?

At Stockland, we’re primarily a property company, so if I think about external challenges in the social dimension – housing affordability and mortgage stress are clear adaptive challenges. These aren’t issues that Stockland can fix, but we can help contribute to a solution.

We also have an ageing population in Australia and we have a retirement living business, so there are some challenges for us about how we respond to that. And as I mentioned earlier, there is a challenge around building community resilience.  In the environments where we have our assets, we have a focus on improving the health and well-being, education and connection of the people who live there.  These three focus areas are indicators of community resilience – and the initiaitves we deliver can help lead to greater social cohesion, economic viability, and connectedness.

While we can’t ‘fix’ the issues in the communities wheee we have a presence, we can certainly help contribute to a better outcome.

JA:  And internally?  Where are the adaptive challenges there?

There are two adaptive challenges that stand out. One is about developing strong internal stakeholder engagement.  We need to bring people on our journey, and help them to understand why these issues are important to us and how we (as a business) can respond to them. While Stockland is a great organisation – it’s not perfect.  There are pockets of resistance at times, particularly when new people come into the organisation and you do have to listen to the other voices, the voices of “no,” and ask the right questions, to probe, ultimately with the aim of having a better understanding of why they’re saying no.

The internal challenge that really stands out for me is the affordability of some of our programs. There are some terrific initiatives out there that we can implement that deliver better health and education outcomes for the community, but they are expensive, and if we try and do these things across the portfolio, it turns into a lot of money, and it’s money that comes out of someone’s budget.

Program affordability and being able to demonstrate how it directly delivers value back to Stockland is a key challenge.

JA: How do these adaptive challenges affect your leadership?

In dealing with any of these challenges you need to first understand how the issue is materially impacting the business. Then, have clarity around how addressing an issue will help us achieve a shared value outcome as an organisation. And that’s not always easy to financially measure. We have clear aspirations about maintaining leadership in the area of sustainability, so it’s always a challenge for Stockland to keep pushing – and that’s my role.

Issues related to indigenous reconciliation, accessibility or energy sustainability such as carbon neutrality across our portfolio – are key topics moving forward. We need to understand what it would take to be an organisation with zero carbon, and ask questions that will help us to meet some of the challenges around health and education?

I can’t possibly do what I do without being able to lead conversations that address all of those things, because if you can’t respond to that you won’t succeed in delivering against our commitments. Being able to get people talking, and hear all the voices in the room is extremely important.

JA: Greg, you spent a bit of time learning about adaptive leadership with us. Can you tell me how your learning has affected your leadership?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and there was one thing that stood out from the first day when I started my learning in Adaptive Leadership – and that was owning my privilege. Whether it was the fact that I’m male, because I’m white, because I’m educated, and employed – all of those things. Very early on in the program I learned some really valuable lessons around privilege, authority and power. Learning how to use that effectively in my adaptive leadership journey has been key.

JA:  How have you used that?

I’ve learnt to listen to the voices in the room – to hear the “no”. Learning to listen, and not block those voices, or align myself to people who think like I do because there are usually valid reasons why people are saying no, or why people might push back. Once upon a time, I might have just rejected the dissenting voices and just keep pushing on, but I think listening and understanding what those factions are and what the politics of the situation might be has been extremely valuable. Learning how to probe and get below the surface of issues has been crucial.

Gaining insight, and understanding my role in the mess has been crucial. As we say in Adaptive Leadership – you need to get on the balcony to understand where you sit on an issue. Developing a better understanding of my role in things, and whether I am actually causing some of the problem for any reason – or contributing to the problem.

During the Canberra trip component of our program, we met with Kerrie Tim, who spoke with us about what it was like to be working as a senior advisor in Parliament as an indigenous woman. She spoke about her own experiences and the key message that I took this conversation was the importance of being at the centre of your own revolution. That if you’re trying to drive change, influence or get something done, then you really need to be at the centre of that. You can’t rely on the ‘system’ to make it happen. You’ve got to lead it – and you’ve got to remain the driver.

JA:  How deeply did you dig personally to shape the way you lead?

I think I very clearly had a blind spot around privilege. Up until that point, it’s something that I’d never thought about. And, on the day that it came to the surface, I was pretty much stripped naked on it, because I didn’t recognize it in myself, so therefore I wasn’t owning it and I wasn’t using it. So, I think my words were, “Well, I haven’t used it for good or bad,” and I’m not conscious of it so therefore I can’t control it…”

I learnt by being challenged and being in that place of discomfort that that isn’t true and it has been in my mind ever since.

I believe that if I hadn’t done the Adaptive Leadership program, my understanding of privilege and power would be missing and my ability to use that to influence change would be lost.

I also remember going to the program saying that I wanted to find my voice, because up until that point, I believe I had a tendency to not challenge, to not ask those hard questions or assert myself. I know the key takeout for me was to use my voice to hold the organization accountable in its purpose – and that’s what I’m doing more of. I’m speaking up more, and trying to ask more generative questions, and placing myself into places of discomfort more often.

JA:  It sounds like you’re also giving back. You’re contributing to the development of leadership capacity back into Stockland. Something that possibly you would have done before, but now you bring different insights?

I’m certainly looking for those opportunities to see how you can align learning with doing. If there’s an opportunity to create an environment that might achieve both outcomes, then that’s what I’d like to see happen. One of the things I’m trying to do more work on right now is around indigenous reconciliation, and where Stockland has a reconciliation action plan, as part of an organizational commitment, I’m looking for opportunities to see how we can implement reconciliation initiatives into our projects. So far, we are having some success with that and we are running a retail training program for indigenous participants on the Sunshine Coast to help provide employment opportunities as well as promotion of indigenous arts and culture and acknowledgment of traditional landowners where we have assets ‘on country’.

JA:  Are you dancing on the edge of your authority.


I’m certainly looking through a different lens, and am encountering new experiences and opportunities every day. That example of doing more with our reconciliation action plan on projects, that’s something I probably would never have taken on once upon a time because I wouldn’t have backed myself to do it.

I’ve backed myself to do things that are probably outside my expertise, and that has put me in places of discomfort. But that’s the way you learn.

There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the outcomes of your work. And that might just simply mean there’s a cohort of kids that have benefited from a music workshop in a disadvantaged school, that school attendance has improved just on the days that they run those workshops. Or that those kids are more collaborative in class, working together, or their self-esteem is greater, or their compassion is greater. And that’s the feedback that we’re getting from teachers. We’re all human, and we want to see people succeed and it’s those impacts that have meaning on a personal level.


 Find out more about the Australian Adaptive Leadership Program 2019. First round applications close on 30th November 2018.



FAQ – Australian Adaptive Leadership Program

Julia Ahern has been involved with the flagship Adaptive Leadership Course for many years, firstly under the direction of the Benevolent Society, and now under the direction of Adaptive Leadership Australia and answered these frequently asked questions about the upcoming Australian Adaptive Leadership Program.

Why did the program move from being run by The Benevolent Society to Adaptive Leadership Australia?

The Benevolent Society initially launched this program as an experiment back in 1999. Over time the program became extremely successful, and was known as the Sydney Leadership Program, running each year until 2017. However, due to a change in the Benevolent Society’s strategic direction it was decided that Social Leadership Australia would close – and the Sydney Leadership program as a result would no longer run.

With so much good-will for the program, and with the support of the Benevolent Society, a core team of facilitators were given the opportunity to continue to run the program – under a new name – Adaptive Leadership Australia.

Q. What are the differences about the new program being run by Adaptive Leadership Australia. What have you brought across, and what has been changed?

Apart from the name, the purpose of the programme hasn’t changed. We’re very committed to the purpose of developing the capacity of people to exercise leadership for social impact.

We also continue to utilise the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s diagnostic framework through which we view leadership.

Much of the content continues, as does the methodology that we use. We still immerse participants in complex social issues for the purpose of viewing leadership through the lens of complexity, enabling participants to observe people who are working with really complex challenges.

And, as a result, participants are able to view that complexity in action. They are able to engage with and experience the different perspectives of individual stakeholders directly in order to deeply understand, and often ask questions that also challenge their thinking about their adaptive challenges. While the majority of the content remains the same, we have added additional content and new learning methodology based on our experience of running the program for many years. The program length has been reduced from a 17 days to 12 days. We understand that people are busy, but also recognise the importance and the value of face-to-face learning.

Q. There is a strong and very supportive alumni network who are fantastic advocates for the continuation of the program. What do they say are the key benefits of the program?

Past participants often say that they come into the program with one set of expectations, but gain something very different to what they anticipated. So, I think that’s part of the wonder of the program.

1/ What makes our programs really impactful are the people themselves. Our participants come from senior roles across all sectors, and bring with them a diversity of thought, and experience, but often find that they’re dealing with the same sorts of challenges in their leadership work. Participants learn from each other, as much as they do from the program content, and they develop enduring friendships, and continue to build their network and continue to learn with those groups beyond the program.

2/ The impact of social immersion is extremely valuable. Participants come across situations that they might not deal with in their everyday work and life. Often the memories of the experiences and the learning they’ve gained through that social immersion is something that stays with them for a long time after. I think the Canberra immersion in particular is a big experience for many participants. While many people have visited Canberra, they haven’t necessarily engaged with people who are working in government, or with very complex social challenges in Parliament House. So, that is also something that people reflect on as being a really impactful experience.

3/ The content, the learning process and methodology we use is something very different from other programs. Participants get a different perspective of leadership, and how to exercise leadership from wherever they are in their organisation.

Because we deal with what’s going on in the room, we don’t bring in case studies from other organisations. We use case in point methodology, which involves the participants being able to grapple with complexity and reflect on the role that they take up, in the moment.  They’re able to start to observe themselves, how they respond when challenged by different ideas or thinking. They’re also able to experiment in new ways of engaging with others in a safe and supportive environment

What often happens is participants will come away with a renewed view of their own strength, and also be able to observe things that are not so effective in the way that they engage with other people. Many of the participants come away with a big, “Wow! I’ve really been able to observe my strengths. I’ve been able to develop a new toolkit that I can apply back in my role and be more effective in how I engage with others, how I solve problems with others, how I exercise leadership.

Q. The programme requires a significant investment both in time and financially. How have participants overcome this?

From a time perspective, while 12 days seems like a lot of time, those days are spread over a series of months – with each component running for 2 to 2 ½ days at a time. Halfway through the program, and certainly by the end of the programme, participants tell us that they want more – and are surprised at how fast time flew.

From a financial perspective – that really varies on the individual and the organisations that they represent. Many of our participants self-fund. They see the value of investing in their own development. Alternatively, some individuals seek funding through their organisation, which involves building a business case for their manager or their organisation – in some instances addressing how they will return the learning into the workplace. Often an organisation will fund that participant 100%. Other participants have negotiated a partnership, where the organisation pays 50% of the programme fee and the individual themself has the other 50%. That again has been based on their business case, applying the learning back into role, and also personally investing in themselves.

Some have sought sponsorship from organisations that they work with outside of their formal role. They may belong to a community group, such as a Lion’s Club, and seek sponsorship. Many people are successful in receiving partial funding this way.

Others seek scholarships. This year we’re endeavouring to offer some partial scholarships that will help people that couldn’t normally join the program.

Q. Who would benefit most from participating in the programme?

The people who gain the most from the program are usually those that are grappling with complex challenges in their organisation. Irrespective of the sector they’re in, they appreciate that if they continue doing what they’re doing, nothing is going to change.

We have a lot of participants from government, not-for-profit, and non-government organisations coming into the program. We know that in government, and particularly in the not-for-profit sector, huge change has been occurring in those sectors.

We also get a lot of participants coming in from corporate environments. The value of the program for people in corporate roles is they’re actually stepping out of the four walls of those organisations, and engaging with different perspectives, and issues. They may be in sustainability roles, or have some sort of engagement with the communities in which they’re part of. So, corporate participants particularly gain value from coming up against those complex social issues that sometimes they’re just not aware of.

Others come in as an individual. They’re at a crossroad in their career or their role, and looking for new ways of thinking about and exercising leadership. They’re people that come in irrespective of the sector they’re in, the role, or the organisation, because they themselves are seeking more to life, a renewed purpose. Usually the participants are those that are in senior roles, so they’ve had life experience. They’ve known what’s failed and what’s succeeded and they are seeking new ways to make progress or have a greater impact in their world.

Q. How do organisations benefit from their leaders participating in the programme? What’s in it for them?

Individuals who do our programs go back into their organisations with a new way of thinking about and practicing leadership. They have new tools in their leadership toolkit which they are able to share with their colleagues.  They’re able to engage with stakeholders that they previously may have had difficulty with.  They have learnt how to listen to different perspectives, how to engage with people who don’t agree with them – and find new ways to bring them along, and to mobilise them, in service of the purpose of their organisation.

Many of our participants are promoted to more senior roles within their organisation, so they are able to contribute at a more strategic level with greater impact.

Q. Do organisations ever sponsor people from outside of their organisation to attend this program?

Many organisations understand that they’re part of a bigger community. Often they’re partnering with organisations that can’t necessarily afford to sponsor their own employees. Those organisations see the benefit of funding one person from their own organisation and sponsoring someone from their partner or community stakeholder group.

First Round Applications for the Australian Adaptive Leadership Program 2019 – close on November 30th 2018.

Apply Now

If you would like to arrange a time to speak further with one of the facilitators about this program, please email: enquiry@adaptiveleadershipaustralia.com.au and we will be in-touch within 24 hours.

World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day 2018

In our leadership development work we have the privilege to connect with inspiring people who seek to further develop their leadership capacity for social impact.

Tim Heffernan is one of them. A Peer Coordinator with COORDINARE, the South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, Consumer Peer Worker with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District and member of the Community Advisory Council with the Mental Health Commission of NSW.

Tim is also an award winning writer and a poet.

In recognition and support of World Mental Heath Day and the 1 in 5 Australian people who experience mental illness in any year; in honour of people like Tim, who lead in Mental Health roles, we share one of Tim’s poems and this link to Madness and the Shapes it Speaks – 2018 Wollongong Writers Festival

on the ladder

the first writing ended in madness, but for twenty years the words stayed in your head trying to find shapes that would speak. this time you return to drafts of delusion, but the draughts of delusion return you to this time. on the ladder you think of what to write, the second coming. at that precise moment the words, the music and the man meld. meaning meets you and you understand the pulse of the place, the beating of hearts, the chorus of uncertainty, the construction from nothing, the coming back to fix the temple, the houses of sticks, the clutching of straws, the building with beaks. sometimes when the writing is good and the music is too it is like you are wired. as you listen, the melody, the lyric, prompts you, supports you, sings your sentence and the breeze pushes you, gives you direction, tells you which way to go, which path to follow. the breeze breathes.

Published in Time, Spineless Wonders, 2018




Developing a Creative Australia

Developing a Creative Australia Requires Adaptive Leadership

” When dealing with an adaptive challenge that requires creativity, you have to tolerate the pains of processes that increase the odds that new ideas will lead to new adaptive capacity” Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky

Richard Howcroft, Chair of Australian Film and Radio School and chief creative officer at PwC recently spoke of the “need to value creativity and understand its centrality to our economy and culture” and defines creativity as “using new and imaginative ideas to create something…”

He talks about imagining and creating lateral connections between industry.. “and the need to “stretch and challenge ourselves, think bigger and extend our ideas in every possible direction.”

Richard has called for the establishment of a Creativity Commission to drive economic growth and ensure that we’re not left behind. He said that “Australia needs a federally supported body dedicated to creative capacity building, to combat (what he described as) “the country’s creative deficit.” See more here where he outlines four primary functions for a Creativity Commission.

A Creativity Commission may be a great idea and possibly a must do for Australia. It may provide the authority to drive a more creative Australia at a national level, however isn’t this a technical response to an adaptive challenge?

Creativity is the work of leadership at all levels of society; in organisations, government and communities. The work of leadership involves harnessing creativity to solve some of our most challenging or wicked problems. Creativity is often what those in authority espouse; however in many organisations or communities it is usually alignment that is really being sought. Avoidance of the friction creativity can cause is often the reality. The time that it takes to create something new (to adapt) the culture of an organisation is often at odds with those in authority who resist the discomfort of cultural change, and return to the status quo. It is much easier and less time consuming to apply a technical fix, like a Commission. And herein lies the adaptive challenge.

At Adaptive Leadership Australia we support the need to develop more creativity in our disrupted world. We believe in the need to develop the capacity to orchestrate a diverse range of interpretations of a complex problem. Harnessing creativity requires the ability to work across difference. In order to bring about creative cultures, organisations, communities and societies, we need to develop the skills of adaptive leadership. Adaptive leadership involves a deep connection to purpose, the ability to challenge the status quo, the courage and skills to challenge deeply ingrained ways of being and doing. It involves engaging those at the margins, listening to the voices of dissent and working across difference, functions, industry and sectors in order to collaborate and create new and better outcomes. It indeed involves challenging ourselves, thinking bigger and extending the ideas of others in every possible direction in service of that purpose.

Julie Ahern is a Director at Adaptive Leadership Australia.

Get in touch with Adaptive Leadership Australia for more information about our progressive approach to developing the skills needed to develop a Creative Australia.