Adaptive Positive Deviance Leadership (i)

In the first article of this series I introduced the concept of Adaptive Positive Deviance (APD) and described the Positive Deviance component, in which one presumes that the solution for a complex challenge is already present in the community experiencing the challenge.  The work then becomes a discovery process to identify the practices that are different and better than the norm, along with efforts to invite those experiencing the challenge to try the practices out for themselves.  Those that the group agree work better for them than their usual behaviors become the new norm, enabling all to get the better outcomes.

In an institutional setting the existing behaviors are often deeply intertwined into the organizational culture.  In fact, in many ways these practices are the culture, as in “We are what we do/tolerate.”  These practices often are developed by those in positional authority and become codified in policies and procedures.  Creating and supporting the type of environment in which these existing practices can be scrutinized and, as appropriate, replaced by those positively deviant behaviors that have been developed by someone(s) in the community requires a unique approach to leadership.  This APD Leadership framework is the focus of this week’s articles.

APD Leadership

The existing leadership model in many organizations (including in most healthcare organizations) is derived from Industrial Age principles.  Work is felt to be stable and repeatable, and organizational outcomes are therefore predictable.  The role of leadership in this prevailing model is to create a vision and structure organizational roles, policies, and practices around that vision.  As stated by Berson and Avolio,

A core responsibility for organizational leaders is to direct followers towards achieving organizational purposes by articulating the organization’s mission, vision, strategy, and goals.  Leaders at all levels are responsible for the dissemination of strategic organizational goals, as well as for convincing their constituents to effectively implement these goals (italics theirs).” 

Our current leadership environment is very different from that which existed just a few decades ago.  As a result of our interconnectedness and interdependencies, whether it be from relationships, the Internet, or other networks, rapid and often unpredictable changes are the norm.  We are constantly influencing others through our actions and interactions, and these actions/interactions create opportunities for learning, creativity, and adaptation.  The role of APD leadership is to create conditions that enable such learning and creativity to flourish, what Michael Arena has referred to as “Adaptive Space.”

Novelty and innovation typically take place on the frontlines of our organizations.  In typical bureaucracies this sort of contextual creativity is frowned upon and referred to pejoratively as “workarounds,” with efforts directed by those in power to suppress this sort of behavior.  APD leadership supports this local experimentation and adaptation in a number of ways.  I’ll be posting an article daily for the rest of the week describing aspects of APD leadership- stay tuned.