Monthly Archives: July 2021

35. The Four P’s of Adaptive Leadership

The top-down, command-and-control model of leadership has fallen out of fashion in today’s complex and fast-paced world. Our guest in this episode, Rob Wilkinson, provides an agile alternative that he and Kim Leary (co-host here) presented in their recent Harvard Kennedy School working paper, Leading with Intentionality: The 4P Framework for Strategic Leadership.

The heart of it, they wrote, is that “leadership . . . is not necessarily about charisma or a powerful personality unleashed. It involves a great deal of reflection, challenging the self, and respect for others.” That’s true for leadership in big organizations and in small teams, as well.

In our conversation, Rob and Kim explain their four P’s: Perception, Process, People, and Projection. Each of those elements has both an internal and external component. Internal is looking inward, the self-examination we need to do on our own. External is how we understand and engage with others.

On the internal level Perception is about how we comprehend problems and apparent opportunities. We need to be humble about our own assumptions and curious (not dismissive) about others.

The second P is Process: the rules, both stated and implicit, about who participates and who is heard. Even seemingly minor decisions, like scheduling a late afternoon meeting, have consequences. That time may be fine for most people, but tough for some others who have childcare responsibilities. Whether you stick with your original time or shift, there will be winners and losers.

Then there is P for People. Here Rob and Kim discuss the importance of monitoring both your own feelings and the emotions of the people with whom you work. Someone who feels disrespected, not listened to, can stifle collaboration and hamper implementation.

The fourth P is Projection, the way you convey a vision for the future. It’s not just about the words you speak from the head of the table or what gets written in a policy document or contract. It’s how you conduct yourself and model the kind of open engagement that you want others to practice.

As you’ll sense, that’s something that Rob and Kim are keenly aware of when teaching their adaptive leadership courses. Yes, they are in positions of authority in front of the classroom. They design the curriculum and do the grading. But they don’t lecture, nor do they grill their students. Instead, with a light hand, they guide discussion, so that everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher.

You’ll definitely get a feel for that, listening to their lively exchange here!