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The ARLF leadership blog

How we adapt to the changing contexts

17 February 2022

As we launch into 2022, I remember a conversation I had with one of our more than 1700 alumni, in this case a medical professional, just after the out break of the pandemic in early 2020. He said something to effect of, ‘you shouldn’t be thinking about this lasting a year or even two years but more like three or more’ in relation to the potential seismic shifts we might see in our lives, our work, our communities. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) he was right.

We should not forget that many people have lost their lives. The rest pales in comparison however, what we have all shared in some way is disruption, inconvenience and systemic change. This in turn has affected us all and challenged us in terms of how we respond. As I write this today in Canberra, protests continue against the way governments have handled the pandemic, particularly vaccine mandates. While I support anyone’s right to peaceful protest, this display can perhaps be best described as a response driven by the belief or ideology that the rights of the individual trump their responsibilities to others.

This is always a balancing act however the question for all of us is how do we view these challenges through the lense of leadership? Each will have their own response driven by values, context and a myriad of other factors. In my view we are a societal, communal species and, if leadership is a practice of social influence driven by a greater good, then we must err on the side of our responsibility to others.

Another aspect we may all have experienced to some degree is pandemic fatigue. It is real and completely understandable. Amongst other things, the National Mental Health Commission has released a guide to Pandemic fatigue and some of the practical steps people can take to counter its effects. There are many stories of people having had as much as they can take a sense of restlessness, hopelessness or frustration at things they cannot change. It is also the rapid, continual and shifting change itself.

One of the six key leadership practices identified by the ARLF as central to leadership is adaptation. At a high level it is responsive to changing contexts, open to alternative perspectives and mobilising others to act in complexity. From an ARLF perspective, we are part way through an adaptive process that has taken much longer than most. We have taken a step back, observed the situation from the ‘balcony’ and worked with those around us to stimulate a response to change. We continue to actively experiment with different approaches, many of them successful and some less so.

This has led to several changes in our approach, practice and programs attuned to a continually changing context. For example, for many of our leadership programs we now develop two and sometimes three versions of a single program session to cater for different scenarios. As much as possible we look for opportunities to bring all participants together face to face, alternatively in state based or regional ‘hubs’ and at times virtually. We have challenged ourselves in terms of what experiential learning in different contexts means with a focus on the impact of each experience.

What has adaptation in rapidly shifting contexts meant to you and your leadership?

In other news there have been a few changes at the ARLF, and I’d like to recognise contributions of outgoing team members and welcome others! A huge thanks to Gagandeep Singh, Jess Sargent and Marzanne Els for your contribution and welcome to Lesley Vick who will be part of the team working on the Drought Resilient Leaders program.

Matt Linnegar, February 2022