This topic is near and dear to my heart. While I lean to the tidy side when it comes to my space and belongings, it’s the complex and not so tidy aspects of working together with others in leading change that is my life fuel!  Transforming our schools to be learning environments where each and every one of our students can thrive can be challenging indeed. A commitment to SWIFT implementation requires what Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky (2009) refer to as technical and adaptive leadership approaches and skills. Let’s distinguish their differences.

Technical challenges are more clearly defined and can be largely managed or controlled in a hierarchal fashion. A leader or small group can make the decision on what needs to happen and put in place a system for monitoring its implementation. The other side of that leadership coin are adaptive challenges. These challenges are not easily defined; they require learning to create shared understanding about all the facets of a topic or issue, then dialogue and deliberation to determine the best way forward. With adaptive challenges, leaders engage a representative body of stakeholders in a collaborative learning conversation so that the solutions to systemic, complex issues can be created and sustained. An adaptive leadership approach is rooted in the belief that the wisdom resides within the system for many of the issues we face. Knowing how to tap the collective intelligence of that system is key. A glimpse into the adaptive leadership toolbox reveals four sets of interrelated skills:

  • Communication
  • Facilitation
  • Conflict competence
  • Systems thinking

Going deeper, reflected in those skill sets are some core values to which masters of adaptive leadership cling:

Honest and open communication. Humility. Service. Growth and development of self and others. Creativity and open-mindedness. Teamwork – positive, trusting relationships. Compassion. Courage. Determination. Appreciation. Leadership from any chair. Achieving. Personal responsibility. Respect. Integrity.

SWIFT implementation is chock full of adaptive challenges. “All hands on deck for all kids” rolls off the tongue easily, but it’s a complex endeavor to make real. It necessarily involves changing roles and relationships within school communities and engagement with stakeholders across the whole educational system. In short, our dreams for equity based inclusive schoolwide transformation can only be realized to the extent that our individual and collective leadership practices make it possible. And because our inner game runs our outer game, our core beliefs and values deeply matter. In experiencing adaptive leadership, we can look for the reflection of those values “being lived” in every conversation—oral, written, or email; how meetings or work groups are facilitated and accountability to our norms made visible, and how conflicts are surfaced and managed productively.

In our SWIFT partner states, districts, and schools, it is impressive to witness our colleagues from across the system manifesting these core values as they skillfully exercise adaptive leadership in their SWIFT implementation efforts. They are fully engaged in harvesting the intelligence and mobilizing the strengths of system stakeholders (e.g., educators, staff, students, family and community members, educational governing boards, higher education representatives, mental health service providers, legislators, and the business community) in multiple ways to reach desired goals and sustain results over time. These adaptive leaders clearly recognize that just like our students, we’re better together.

Linda Beitz

Photo of blog post author.Linda is on staff at the SWIFT Center as a member of the State Education Agency (SEA) Facilitator Team and the Capacity and Sustainability Team. Her passion is supporting educators’ in a positive relational approach to systems change, leadership effectiveness, and personal/team conflict competence. She’s the mother of two wonderful young adults and an avid (seasonal) bicyclist along Chicago’s lakefront.