Union for Reform Judaism

Six principles for managing adaptive change
Mar. 11, 2009

1. Get on the Balcony: Leaders have to understand the bigger picture and view patterns as if they were on a balcony. They know the history of the organization and the trends outside of it that affect it. Rather than being swept up in the field of action, educators on the balcony “keep their eye on the prize.”

2. Identify the Adaptive Challenge: The problems facing your school may be the symptoms of an adaptive challenge. The leadership should look at itself and think about how it can change to meet the challenge rather than putting out little fires.

3. Regulate Distress: Some pressure to change is productive, too much overwhelms. Therefore, the leader must create a holding environment—a place to raise issues and work them out. In addition, s/he should demonstrate confidence and be able to face tough questions without getting defensive or caving in.

4. Maintain Disciplined Attention: When people slide into work avoidance behaviors, the leader refocuses on the adaptive change, reframes the issue, deepens the debate, and demonstrates the need for collaboration.

5. Give the Work Back to the People: Value each person’s unique perspective and knowledge and make it a key factor in meeting the adaptive challenge. The leader should be supportive, not controlling. People need to feel ownership, have the freedom to take risks, and have self-confidence.

6. Protect Voices of Leadership From Below: People in the organization—teachers, parents, and students, may have opinions that challenge a new initiative, point out contradictions, or simply provide a different perspective that is being overlooked. Leaders should resist the urge to silence these people and try to understand the issues they raise.