Bearing in mind that effective leadership does not involve the implementation of a linear process and building on my previous post on adaptive leadership, I thought it might help to think about the process as consisting of three distinct but interlocking phases or modes:
- Attune — Anticipate, Appreciate
- Attenuate — Acknowledge, Ask, Align, Advise
- Adapt — Adopt, Assess, Adjust
In the attune phase, leaders reflect upon and frame their relationship to the environment. They pay particular attention to the signals of change, their symbolic significance to stakeholders, and signs of dissonance or discord within the organization or community as a consequence.
During the attenuation phase the emphasis shifts toward creating a holding environment by acknowledging the situation and its challenges openly and honestly. The leader must remain attuned to the environment, even as the object of her attention shifts to building an atmosphere of respect, trust, and collaboration by confirming a common understanding of the situation and the appropriate response to it through a process of appreciative inquiry.
Engaging those affected by change alleviates anxiety by affirming participants’ sense of their own agency through participation in a process aimed at defining the challenges and determining desired end-states. The leader empowers and encourages this process by aligning strategic interventions with desired results and by clarifying and confirming participants’ expectations and intentions.
The adaptation phase involves individuals and the collective in the process of adopting a plan of action, assessing their performance implementing it and the environmental response to their interventions. Adaptation usually involves incremental adjustments as feedback comes in, and, as such, expands involvement in the practice of attenuation among the stakeholders as they actively challenge assumptions and build goals based upon their shared understanding.
Strategic agility evolves or emerges from the continuous and attentive application of these phases amidst continuous challenge and change.