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.

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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.