I love my children, and like many of you I want a healthy planet so the next generation might live healthy, fulfilling lives – and their children, their children’s children and so forth. But that future is in doubt. This post is the 2nd in a series dedicated to exploring the current reality and how we might close the gap between that reality and our aspirations for a healthy planet. If you missed the 1st post, The Greatest Challenge of Our Time, I urge you to read it before reading this post further.
I admit my role in contributing to our current ecological footprint. I have a nice home, automobiles, and gadgets not essential for my survival. Like so many I use more resources than I need for a healthy, content life. Getting you, me and others to live on this planet without spoiling it is the greatest adaptive challenge of our time. Reducing our ecological footprint will need all of us to become aware and then to change – to let go of things and adopt different habits that are fun, rewarding, and healthy for us and the planet. We have to adapt but it’s unlikely we will without intervention. To address the greatest adaptive challenge of our time, we Nature professionals must learn to intervene skillfully to help others (and ourselves) close the gap between our hope for a healthy planet and the current reality.
I believe the framework for that work is the principles of adaptive leadership. According to its originators’ at Cambridge Leadership Associates, “Adaptive Leadership emerged from thirty plus years of research at Harvard University by Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, defining the frontier of leadership training and development. Adaptive Leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of adaptation. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real change to the status quo.”
Calling for social and economic change seems uncomfortable. As Nature professionals it’s perhaps easier to be what Leopold described as “land-doctors” busying ourselves with “alleviations of biotic pain.” And for many of us that is what we’re paid to do. But if we value Nature and humans we should follow Olaus Murie’s call to “look at the horizon,” and Leopold’s advice to shift cultural attitudes toward land health.
Leopold used prose and science to articulate the sustainable Nature relationship promoted by Native Americans like Chief Seattle. Leopold explained the why but he didn’t have the benefit of behavioral science research to help lead people to the solution – his proposed land ethic. However what Leopold lacked in access to today’s leadership philosophy he made up for with emotional intelligence. As demonstrated in the Management Assistance Team Webinar “Leopold, Leadership and You” Leopold scholars Drs. Curt Meine and Julianne Warren shared that Leopold intuitively exhibited adaptive leadership in many ways. They described how he was adept at diagnosing the underlying values that landowners held. Rather than vilify, he developed relationships with farmers and others that were responsible for the land sickness he so much wanted to cure. He experimented with ways to mobilize others to help them keep things most important to them while doing away with practices that harmed Nature. He recognized and tried to address his biases while managing his personal life very well.
In the age of the Anthropocene the adaptive challenge is helping humanity address the conflict between an increasing human footprint and the health of the planet. We must help people plan for an existence that is sustainable – doing what is essential and letting go of what is not. In the age of the Anthropocene a Nature organization will have to adapt by changing priorities. Their focus must shift to the socio-ecological mixing zone where neuroscience is just as important as conservation biology. It is within that human-Nature interface where the Nature professions real work lies. Within that zone is conflict and that is where we find the adaptive challenge.
Addressing the adaptive challenge of the Anthropocene requires all hands on deck. Every Nature professional must become adept at exhibiting adaptive leadership: diagnosing the situation; energizing others; managing self; and intervening skillfully to guide the distribution of loss that will be required to make progress. Leopold got us started and together we can move humanity in the right direction. There are thousands of Nature professionals in thousands of communities. Just imagine how successful we would be if we joined together for the same purpose! How powerful would we be if we addressed the greatest challenge of our time together?
Ronald Heifetz et al, in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership broke the act of leadership into four main components: diagnosing the system; mobilizing the system; seeing self as system; and deploying yourself. In upcoming posts I’ll explore these steps in greater detail. In the meantime watch this TEDx Presentation as Marty Linsky explains the fundamentals of adaptive leadership. Finally, in the next week chat with a few of your colleagues about the Anthropocene and take note of the stories they tell you. Have they heard of it? Together can you find personal connections to it?
Thank you for following along. If something in this post resonates with you, share it with others. And as always I encourage comments, questions and observations. Please join me in subsequent posts where I’ll explore how we can use the tools of adaptive leadership to close the gap between reality and our dream for a sustainable future.