First, the whole idea of adaptive leadership, as I experienced it, rises out of the realization that the world we live in at the present moment is deeply challenging to the assumptions and responses we are used to offering up in church life as we attempt to "git done what needs doing." (an Appalachian aphorism from my youth). Most human institutions that span a generation or two are struggling nowadays to keep up. A rapidly accelerating rate of change in our culture renders much of what we could take for granted even a half-generation ago moot. It is enough to make one feel obsolete. Adaptive leadership creates an open-ended response focused on small, incremental shifts in perspective that then enable us to loosen up our assumptions and certainties as we evolve structures to deal with the challenges at hand in the world about us.
Second, being adaptive leaders takes practice. It means getting away from outcome-based certainties and expectations. It means being willing to see what works (keep it) and what doesn't (let it go). It means being present to people where they are even while we work to invite them to where they might go, though it means going to places that they have never been to try things they have never before experienced. It means being patient while people work to discover, learn, innovate, create and expand their understanding....and NOT attempting to control it to a pre-determined resolution. It means listening, to God and to each other, until every little drop of meaning can be wrung out from the experience we are in the process of sharing. It is the heart of St. Paul's assertion to press on toward the goal, letting go of what lies behind while trusting in God to "get us there" in the end (Philippians 3:8-16).
I ordered the book on adaptive leadership. There was enough there for me to want to continue to see where this style of leading/learning/striving might take us as a Church. I was also attempting today to process what I learned above (and I pray I gave an accurate summary-in-a-nutshell of that effort above) into something useful for the present moment.
Sitting here pondering that experience, I am drawn back to the chili that Laura and I put into the crock pot today as a metaphor for this style of being in the world. "I want to try something" was how the recipe started....simple ingredients of chicken, tomatillos, garlic, shallots, chilies, beans, onion, broth and lime juice went into the pot. We are trying something new...building on the wisdom of past experiences but not being bound by them...and later we will taste what we have wrought--absorbing the lessons learned, either by the experience of "success" or "failure." But that's the point with cooking and with life....to build on what we learn, continually expand our repertoires, to let go of things that don't work (we won't cook that again!) or hold on to what did (that goes on the "keep that one for another try" list!).
It's interesting that we find it easier to risk a dinner or two in the interest of finding new ways to enjoy food, and yet I confess that I tend to hold back from being that curious when it comes to the institutional life of the church. Lesson learned: if we are going to grow in Christ, then we need to be willing to adapt to changing circumstances...to learn, grow and taste new ways of being fed by the Holy Spirit.