The latest issue of Child Welfare Matters is devoted to explaining why and how organizations in health and human services should consider adopting the tools and processes of adaptive leadership. Child welfare and health care alike are fields overwhelmed with daily urgencies and challenges—a reality that can easily cultivate a reactive environment. Adaptive leadership, by contrast, urges organizations to take a step back and consider their challenges strategically and empower professionals on the frontline of the work to come up with innovative ideas for change. It requires the folks higher up in the organizational hierarchy to literally step out of the room and encourage social workers to brainstorm, experiment with solutions on a small scale, and adapt if and when those initial ideas fail.
Adaptive leadership is appropriate when organizations wish to build on existing strengths but go beyond business as usual. For a child welfare agency, for example, that would mean adding the promotion of “well being” to its mandate of ensuring safety and permanency. Likewise, a health care agency looking to serve the “whole person” would do well to turn to adaptive leadership because there is no immediately obvious technical solution that the organizational machinery can easily plot out and implement. (How does an organization define and promote “well being”?)
This won’t be an easy sell, but Child Welfare Matters reminds us that resistance to change is often a fear of loss—of competency, autonomy, responsibility, etc., when staff are required to work outside their typical roles and take initiative in a bold way. Being proactive about identifying potential “losses” will help.
The gains from adaptive leadership should outweigh any perceived losses. CW Matters lists a few solutions directly resulting from adaptive leadership initiatives. One child welfare agency addressed the problem of administrative silos by building teams across organizational units to share responsibilities and decrease miscommunication. Social workers at a health care agency took on the task of coordinating customized teams of health care providers (including nurses, specialists, and health coaches) who could all talk to patients about their lifestyle and health.
To read more about how one child welfare agency has been using adaptive leadership visit the website of the NM Piñon Project.