Case Study – Leadership in Flint

The following article does a good job of illustrating facets of leading in an adaptive challenge. You’ll find people dancing on the edge of their authority for something they care passionately about. Can you name one person and what she or he did that was risky but purposeful?


(Photo courtesy of the

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has elements of a technical problem and an adaptive challenge.

Solving the technical problem is straightforward:

  • Collect water quality data
  • Determine required solutions and funds needed
  • Authority figures provide direction, protection and restore order:
    • immediate acts provide clean water and protect health
    • long-term acts provide clean water and mitigate health impacts

Unfortunately there’s resistance to the technical solution. This indicates adaptive work and requires:

  • Bringing all stakeholders to the table
  • Understanding the competing aspirations held
  • Staying in the game despite the frustration
  • Finding a collective purpose among all
  • Speaking to what has to be given up to make progress
  • Identifying and doing what needs to be done

As you reflect on what is happening in Flint, think about a tough issue you’re facing in conservation. Are you treating the issue like a technical problem or an adaptive challenge?


About cognizantfox

Cognizantfox has served his country over twenty-five years doing the unselfish, noble work of conserving America's natural heritage.
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2 Responses to Case Study – Leadership in Flint

  1. tlwertz14 says:

    I am still having a difficult time wrapping my head around such an egregious betrayal of public trust, especially the danger to children. The science is irrefutable, while the politics are insulting and laughable at this point. That we should have to struggle this hard to right the wrongs makes me so very depressed.

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