The Practice of Adaptive Leadership is the anchor of so many practices, models, frameworks and quotes which we still here in workplaces and in the wider community when we’re calling for leadership. These three authors are to be commended in producing a practical tool for leaders - they were ahead of their time or we are slow in picking up their knowledge, experience and talent.

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How do people describe your leadership? Has anyone mentioned that you have a ‘leadership edge’?

What does this ‘edge’ indicate about you and your leadership? Are you different from other leaders, are you at the forefront of leadership activity or are we yet to understand what the edge of leadership really looks like?

This week’s book, Your Leadership Edge (YLE), is an elegantly styled hardcover – inviting you to open its pristine white and green pages to immerse yourself while you explore the powerful and provocative ideas and be fuelled with leadership curiosity.

I was already high on leadership when I purchased the book as I had spent a couple of hours in the company of its author, Ed O’Malley, at a Mentors function at Leadership Victoria. In his opening remarks, he captured our attention by simply saying, “Leadership rarely happens … it happens in little moments”.

Author, Founder, Ed O'Malley, Kansas Leadership Center USA

Author, Founder, Ed O'Malley, Kansas Leadership Center USA

Leadership rarely happens is a BIG statement to make, especially if you believe you’re a darn good leader. But hold on, let me support this with YLE’s first principle:

Leadership is an activity, not a position. BOOM!

My immediate thought took me to the many aspiring leaders, who with no direct reports and a desire to lead would get this simple yet sonic statement. Being a team leader or an anointed CEO presents you with authority, however it doesn’t equate to your capability to exercise leadership to mobilise groups around what matters most.

Ed redefines leadership, encapsulating ten years of work at the Kansas Leadership Center (USA) to produce a book which shares his ideas with his goal to assist anyone who has the desire to exercise leadership and put themselves at the edge of their competence.

But wait, there’s more. To help ‘me’ recall what I’ve read and listened to, I have this neat pocket tool which identifies the five leadership principles, four leadership competencies and a long list of stimulating questions to engage conversation. Within each of the 24 behavioural chapters, an additional book is referenced for further reading and whilst neither of these two books are mentioned, I found that huge wafts of their intent were reinforced: Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence and Robert Kean & Lisa Laskow Lahey’s Immunity to Change.

Imagine having your Leadership Development Mentor living in your handbag or pocket. A voice pipes up asking you questions, sharing wisdom and stories, pushing you to the edge to experiment and practise what’s been said and shared. That Mentor lives in the pages of YLE. Here’s what you’d hear:

Adaptive challenges distinguish themselves from technical problems by simply saying there is no answer in your current repertoire. Which then introduces the notion of redefining leadership to recognise where the technical problem ends and the adaptive challenge begins. The responses you hear to “what concerns you most?” may identify an adaptive challenge in your business.

Being a good cook, I was drawn to Leadership requires attention to heat– using a metaphor of the difference between a thermometer and thermostat – the later allows you to not only tell the temperature but will move the temperature that you need to be at. Too much heat and people panic. Watching for clues about the temperature will allow you to intervene skillfully for ‘a leadership moment’ and make some progress.

Engage unusual voices – it’s the books only rule and paramount that it cannot be violated when facing an adaptive challenge. These voices don’t belong to your go-to-crew rather it’s those you seldom engage and you know ‘they’ will have influence to produce your change. Whilst it may be outside your comfort zone, it’s probably risky and you’ll have a plethora of other excuses however this rule can’t be broken.

Speak to loss – I learnt this a couple of years ago and it’s exquisitely explained – most of us don’t understand the distinction between change and loss. Change isn’t scary, it’s the loss that goes with it. People get passionate about issues that affect them and their values come into play. Leaders are generally responsible for bringing the loss and try to avoid the conversation. All the more reason to create the space for people to share what they are thinking, an opportunity to build trust and even share an example or story of your own loss, authenticating that it’s OK to feel loss.

And my favourite Give the work back - in our quest to raise the problem and solution we miss the opportunity to probe deeply enough to identify the smart risks that will lead to real progress. Giving the work back is about getting people involved, right at the beginning of diagnoses, not delegation of task. I was attracted to this behaviour as it’s one of the most difficult. When people turn to you for answers instead of taking risks or working with others that should be a sign to give the work back.

Whilst some ideas are articulated differently to what we already know, some new ideas are worth experimenting. Your investment in this read or even exploring the work which the KLC advocates is highly recommended if your edge is in the distance.

I would welcome your challenge to this claim of leadership rarely happening … however of all my observations over the many years in business, volunteer community work and in our current transparent world, I can recall very few moments of true leadership, and now using this behavioural guideline, the list diminishes.

Now, consider your leadership edge – scan your eyes over these four leadership competencies and determine if you are exercising these leadership behaviours. If yes, you’re at the edge. Onward!

Let’s connect to work on these behaviours and get you to the edge of your competence.

I’m endeavouring to read 52 Business/Professional/Personal Development books in 52 weeks. Yep, that’s one a week. As I read each book, I’ll share my thoughts, learnings and recommendations. If there is a book that you’ve been meaning to read, let me know and I’ll read it for us!