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Handout 1: Dangers Leaders Face

The dangers of leadership take many forms. Although each organization and culture has its preferred ways to restore equilibrium when someone upsets the balance, we've noticed four basic forms, with countless ingenious variations. When exercising leadership, you risk getting marginalized, diverted, attacked, or seduced. Regardless of the form, however, the point is the same. When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise leadership in order to preserve what they have. — Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Heifetz and Linsky name some of the many ways leaders face danger when trying to ask good questions and help an organization face adaptive challenges:

1. Marginalization, which might take these forms:

  • Tokenizing a person or a small group so they embody an issue and carry it prominently within the organization, so the organization as a whole never has to address the issue
  • Longing for a beloved past leader and not allowing space for a new leader
  • Telling an individual they represent a highly valued idea, keeping that individual from being a generalist
  • Confusing the leader with the issue, so the leader takes personal responsibility for an organizational challenge.

2. Diversion, which might take these forms:

  • Broadening the leader's agenda by promoting or giving new responsibilities to a leader
  • Overwhelming the leader's agenda with demands and programmatic details.

3. Attack, which might take these forms:

  • Engaging in personal attacks—physical or verbal
  • Criticizing a leader's style or personality instead of their message
  • Misrepresenting a leader's position or behavior.

4. Seduction, which might take these forms:

  • Playing on the leader's friendships and loyalties to divert the leader from a sense of purpose
  • Flattering and supporting a leader with the expectation of favored status in return.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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