Staying Alive: Leading with Change and Risks

Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading

A key challenge that leaders face is deciding when to push for change. Heifetz and Linsky emphasize that leadership requires a dance between preserving stability and initiating change.

This kind of leadership is painful and challenging, because it surfaces conflict and challenges long-held beliefs. It also puts leaders at risk.

1. Challenge the Status Quo

Challenging the status quo can help you move your team or marketing organization to the next level. It encourages creativity and problem-solving and ensures that your business is always evolving and adapting to a changing environment.

The first step in challenging the status quo is to get a clear understanding of its negative effects. Download our free “Challenging the Status Quo Worksheet” to pinpoint the specifics of your situation and create a plan for change.

Heifetz and Linsky suggest that leaders often encounter resistance and personal attacks when they try to create change. This is because the current state of affairs may seem like a safe place to stay. However, leaders must realize that progress rarely comes in one massive leap; it’s more likely to be a series of small victories. For example, if you’re trying to increase revenue, it’s important to prioritize new ideas that will have the greatest impact on your bottom line.

2. Disrupt the Status Quo

Real leadership often disrupts deeply embedded norms, values, and beliefs. As a result, leaders often become targets. This is especially true when leaders are tackling difficult, conflict-ridden issues and challenging long-held beliefs. Leaders may face four basic dangers: marginalization, diversion, attack, and seduction.

These leadership pitfalls are the result of asking people to leave behind what they hold dear, even if that status quo is unsatisfactory. Leadership on the Line reveals how to avoid these traps by taking time to identify compelling goals and by asking what’s worth the pain of change.

Leadership on the Line is a powerful guide for anyone who wants to transform their organizations and communities. It offers a glimpse into the dance of leadership between stability and change, a willingness to take on risk, and an unwavering commitment to making a difference in the world. The book’s mix of rigor and practicality makes it essential reading for every aspiring leader.

3. Take the Heat

Leadership on the line means embracing discomfort and navigating the uncharted territory of criticism and opposition. It means challenging deeply embedded norms and values, which often leads to resistance from people who benefit from the status quo.

Heifetz and Linsky describe how leaders who truly believe in the change they are working toward are able to take the heat that comes with their courageous stands. They give the example of William Wilberforce, a British politician who dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery and who faced immense opposition and personal danger.

Heifetz and Linsky suggest ways to “take the heat” with grace, including giving others opportunities to lead on issues that they normally would attend to as a leader, increasing the temperature of discussion by showing data, and letting the issue ripen through open, respectful dialogue before taking action. Ultimately, they advocate for building support networks of trusted individuals to provide perspective and support as needed.

4. Take the Lead

Leadership often requires putting yourself on the line. It means disrupting the status quo and surfacing hidden conflict. It can be difficult and emotionally exhausting. When you try to make changes that aren’t popular, people may reject and push back. Leaders must take risks to make a difference, but they should be prepared for the consequences and seek sanctuary to protect themselves. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government faculty, share their insights in Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.

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