Pivot and Flex: How to adapt in leadership | Jill Healey

How do we continue to adapt and ‘flex’ moving forward?


Pivot and Flex – the latest leadership jargon!

Nothing is new under the sun. People have always had to respond to changing circumstances through out life, but in the 2020’s we exist in a global context which extends beyond anything we have experienced before.  As educational leaders we have limited lessons from the past to draw upon as we are called to respond to challenges that are increasingly more complex on a global scale. 

As leaders in education this moment in time demands innovative and creative solutions like never before.  There was no option other than to pivot in response to the immediate impact of the Coronavirus. The capacity of Christian schools to pivot was nothing short of amazing, but how do we continue to adapt and ‘flex’ moving forward?

We have been beautifully and wonderfully created to engage in and enjoy our relationship with God and to bring honour and glory to Him. As leaders and aspiring leaders in Christian education, the scripture teaches us that we have the mind of Christ who created all things.  How incredible is that?   Our Heavenly Father was the first creator/innovator and therefore He already has the solutions to any challenges that arise!  

Find out what God is up to and join in

We need to find out what God is up to and choose to join him where he is already at work.  It is from there that we will operate from a place of true innovation.  ‘We can confidently take up our role as co-creator with Him, with the promise of Ephesians 3 that the results of our leadership will be immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!’ (True Innovation, Zosia Ericksson – Arrow Leadership)

There is much to be gleaned from the story of King Hezekiah, one of the greatest leaders of Israel. In Isaiah 36, we read how he was put under intense pressure by the King of Assyria who sent a letter that threatened, insulted and challenged Hezekiah to give up and compromise.  Hezekiah’s response was to take the letter to the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Isaiah 37 tells how God intervened in what seemed an impossible situation.   In the middle of this serious crisis, Isaiah the prophet informs Hezekiah that he is going to die! He cries out to God – Why now? 

“Contextual intelligence is the ability to discern the variables that come at you at a given time to enable you to contribute meaningfully within the context you find yourself.”

In the middle of the worst crisis ever!

In the middle of the worst crisis ever, Hezekiah was steadfast and faithful; he did what was right in the eyes of God.  His first response in a crisis was to bring the situation before God and seek divine intervention.  This was a behaviour he had practised during his leadership, such that his first response to a problem, big or small, was to seek the wisdom of God. 2 Kings Chapters 18 to 20 records this amazing story of answered prayer.  There is so much we can learn from Old Testament leaders. 

In recent weeks, I listened to several keynote speakers referring to the ‘Sons of Issachar’.  The sons of Issachar were among the men armed for battle to transition leadership from King Saul to King David – 2 leaders who were about as different as 2 leaders could be! ‘The men from Issachar understood what was going on at that time. They knew what Israel should do. The total number of their chiefs was 200. They came with all their relatives who were under their command.’  (1 Chronicles 12:23-38)

Understand the times

The word ‘understood’ embraces knowledge, wisdom and discernment.  Discernment is a gift of the Spirit given for the common good, desperately needed and essential for adaptive leadership. (1 Corinthians 12)

We are called to lead by example.  When faced with a challenge, big or small, spread it out before the Lord, reach deep into God for wisdom, discernment and divine inspiration so that we become like the men of Issachar – able to understand the times and the context in which we live and work and to know what we ought to do. God never fails!

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Unstick ‘stuck’ situations

Innovation is required to meet challenges and solve problems and adaptive leadership is needed to enable innovation.  Challenges create opportunities to find innovative solutions, but how do we develop our capacity to approach problems fluidly in order to unstick ‘stuck’ situations?  Future challenges are not likely to be met by traditional approaches to leadership.

In the CSA podcast Series 2 Horizons 2020 series, Andrew Taylor speaks with Professor Matt Kutz to explore the link between school improvement and contextual leadership

Professor Kutz is a thought leader in the area of contextual intelligence and we hope he will be able to come to the 2021 CSA National Leadership Summit (Covid permitting!).  Matt combines cutting-edge research and real-life anecdotes to outline the 12 behavioural practices of contextually intelligent leaders and delineates how those behaviours contribute to effective use of the 3D Thinking Framework™ (Hindsight, Insight and Foresight) to improve leadership and decision-making.


3D Framework: Hindsight, Insight, Foresight

Contextual intelligence is the ability to discern the variables that come at you at a given time to enable you to contribute meaningfully within the context you find yourself. Contextual currency is the ability to recognise multiple audiences and to recognise and understand what each audience expects of you.  The 3D Thinking model provides a framework that blends contextual intelligence and contextual currency to increase the probability of making better decisions. The 3D Framework informs decision making utilising;

  • Hindsight – analyse past learning
  • Insight – What’s going on now?
  • Foresight – Where do we want to be?

Already, I can hear the frantic cry of leaders, ‘I don’t have time to be intentional – I am so busy responding to the immediate’!!  However, hasty decisions are usually based only on hindsight and effectively miss out on 2/3 of the whole picture.  At the conclusion of the podcast, Matt talks about intentionally practising 3D Thinking Freefall – an effective imagination technique. Listen to the podcast and find out what this is about!

The 3D Model reminds me of the men from Issachar who understood what was going on at that time.  A challenge for adaptive leadership is in distinguishing what is essential to preserve from the organisations heritage and what is expendable.  Successful innovations make the best possible use of hindsight, insight and foresight (knowledge, wisdom and discernment) to engage and mobilise the team to build the organisation’s adaptive capacity.

An outstanding resource that provides a practical understanding of adaptive leadership and tools to mobilise people to meet adaptive challenges is: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your organisation and the world.’   Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linksy, et al.

Step forward – walk the journey with God

Everyone understands and recognises that innovation is necessary to effectively lead people in an increasingly complex and multifaceted global context, but the fear of criticism or failure often paralyses leaders from taking sustained action. 

 Leaders in God’s kingdom have the power of almighty God to carry them through even the most difficult challenges.  I hope and encourage you as a leader, to lay matters before God in prayer, seek His wisdom and creativity as you understand and interpret the times. Step forward and walk the journey with Him to make true innovation a reality.

“As leaders in education this moment in time demands innovative and creative solutions like never before.”

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