Adaptive Leadership in Action: Addressing Cultural Norms & Giving Women a Voice

By Acumen on April 06, 2014

In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change.

I work at the Department of Education in my country’s government to research and propose changes and solutions to improve the education system.

I was hired as part of an initiative to bring younger women, into the offices that had been traditionally made up of older men. While this was an excellent initiative to encourage diversity, it was a challenge because I was now a part of a group that was changing the status quo – one that had existed for many, many years. The sentiment was “You’re just a young girl, you haven’t seen the world. You have no experience.”

As a result, many of the young women began to believe that their ideas really didn’t matter and chose to remain silent; offering no opinions or ideas. I was frustrated, but found myself thinking that this was just how things were, and that you can’t change the status quo.

When I learned about this course, I formed a group with some colleagues. We were all interested in learning more about what adaptive leadership was. It was through the discussions in the first lab that we discovered that the challenge we faced at work was an adaptive challenge and that we could actually have influence over it.

Through our analysis of the key stakeholders and energetic brainstorming, we determined we’d need a two-pronged approach; one to target the women in the office, and one to target the men.

We had greater understanding of the men’s hesitation in accepting younger colleagues, and we recognized that they, too, might be feeling discomfort and uncertainty. This course helped us realize the role we could play in creating a more collaborative and inclusive workplace.

To address the challenges inherent in communicating with our male colleagues and managers, our group tested different ways of interacting with them. We knew we couldn’t just speak up at a meeting and tell them they were wrong, or that we had a better idea.

We found that we had the most success when we offered our suggestions in a humble, unassuming way, such as, “I think that’s a great idea. What do you think about this small change?” We decided to start with small, simple suggestions.

These were easier for the men to accept than strategic suggestions. The sentiments we had to communicate were, “This is your idea, let me help you with it,” rather than pushing ideas at them. Over time, as we built up more of a collaborative working relationship, the men became much more receptive to bigger ideas.

I’ve really seen a difference in some of my female colleagues. Some of the shyest women are starting to speak up more. They’ve changed their mindset from “my opinions don’t matter” and are starting to believe in their value as contributors to our work.

Personally, I realized my own potential for adapting to challenges and seeing my own ability to effect changes through taking the course. I’d strongly suggest it to anyone who thinks they have even the smallest or most stubborn challenge to address.

The next session for Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change will begin in May. Check out the course and registration information here

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