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Adaptive Leadership &The Possibilities
of Small Groups: Facilitation, Dialogue,
Cohesion, and Co-Construction
(Responsibilities, Behaviors, Challenges)
Jane Lister Reis
North Seattle Community College
When you think of the word “leader”, what image
comes immediately to your mind?
Jot down the words that describe your image
and then share with your group.
Compile a composite leadership image to share
with the class.
What do we discover?
A New Understanding of Leadership
An image of a today’s leader is not a top-down one,
but one in which the leader is a “resonant and
responsive node in a dynamic network or field of
energy and an agent of emergent possibility”
(Daloz Parks, Sharon. Leadership Can Be Taught,
“Facilitation is a way of providing leadership
without taking the reins. As a facilitator, your
job is to get others to assume responsibility and
take the lead” (Bens 2000).
My learning about group
facilitation came from the river:
Concept of Balance
Small Groups are organic living
systems that need tending, seek
balance, and function best
with diversity.
Like a swamp, they are complex,
contain many hidden elements, are
important for our survival, and
function interdependently.
Facilitator Attributes1
• PROCESS—structure
– “organized”
– “sense of direction,” “goal orientation”
At End
23 21
• CONTENT—FLC focus, outcomes
– “knowledgeable”
– “enthusiastic,” passionate about teaching/learning
– “curious,” “eager to learn”
• RELATIONSHIPS—harmonizer, “soft skills”
“open,” “non-judgmental”
“assertive,” “firm,” “courageous”
“motivator,” “personable”
17 16
46 77
Study done at Otterbein College, Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, 2008
Facilitator as Adaptive and
Collective Leader1
Four concepts:
• Authority vs. Leadership
• Technical Problems vs. Adaptive Challenges
• Power vs. Progress
• Personality vs. Presence
1Leadership Can Be Taught, Sharon Daloz Parks
Authority vs. Leadership
“Today’s complex conditions require acts of
leadership that assist people in moving
beyond the edge of familiar patterns into the
unknown terrain of greater complexity, new
learning, and new behaviors, usually
requiring loss, grief, conflict, risk, stress,
and creativity” (Daloz Parks, 9).
Technical Problems vs.
Adaptive Challenges
“Adaptive challenges often appear as
swamp issues — tangled, complex
problems composed of multiple systems
that resist technical analysis and thus stand
in contrast to the high, hard ground issues
that are easier to address, but where less is
at stake” (Daloz Parks, 10).
Power vs. Progress
“When leadership is understood as an
activity, there is less attention to be paid to
the transactions of power and influence and
more attention given to the question of
whether or not progress is being made on
swamp issues” (Daloz Parks, 10).
Personality vs. Presence
“…the multifaceted capacity to be present
becomes a key factor in effective leadership:
the quality of one’s capacity to be fully
present, comprehend what is happening,
hold steady in the field of action, and make
choices about when and how to intervene in
ways that help the group make progress on
swamp issues” (Daloz Parks, 11).
Questions about Facilitator as
Adaptive and Collective Leader?
Authority vs. Leadership – do you want to rotate the role?
Technical Problems vs. Adaptive
Challenges – what is the adaptive challenge your group faces?
Power vs. Progress – how will you measure progress?
Personality vs. Presence – how will you stay present?
What group activities will keep your group focused, present and on
task? (Social and Task Balance in Groups)
Elements of a Strong Holding
Environment: Creating a Living Field
• How do we create a safe, respectful environment
(where our most authentic selves can be
• Co-constructing a shared commitment to the
vision, goal and process of the group
• What will keep us present and focused?
Maintaining clarity and depth of common purpose
Creating a Cohesive,
Interconnected Group
Individual task:
Reflect upon your participation in a group you are
currently in.
List the strengths you wish to hold onto and contribute
(your natural abilities)
List what qualities you would like to build on and practice
in the future? (your growing edge)
What norms or values will ensure you fully participate?
(together these create your success plan)
Role of Reflection
Group task:
Share your lists with others in your group.
Build a “group success plan” that lists your
group’s norms and values. This list should be
generated from a process of listening and
Bens, Ingrid. Advanced Facilitation
Strategies: Tools & Techniques to
Master Difficult Situations. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2005. Print.
Daloz Parks, Sharon. Leadership Can Be
Taught: A Bold Approach for a
Complex World. Harvard Business
School Press, Boston, 2005. Print.