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8.2 Adaptive Work

It is clear that the practice of cultural intelligence forces leaders to be more adaptive to their surroundings. Adaptive workAn aspect of cultural intelligence that requires a change in values, beliefs, and behaviors to move through conflicting values held by different groups. requires a change in values, beliefs, or behavior.Heifetz (1994), p. 22. Furthermore, it requires leaders to lead through conflicting values held by different groups and to eliminate the gap between the values people have and the realities of their lives. Ronalid Heifetz wrote, “Adapting to human challenges requires that we go beyond the requirements of simply surviving. We perceive problems whenever circumstances do not conform to the way we think things ought to be. Thus, adaptive work involves not only the assessment of reality but also the clarification of values.”Heifetz (1994), p. 31.

Leaders are defined by their values, their beliefs, and their character. To be culturally intelligent means that you must constantly review, revise, and reflect upon your personal value systems and how these systems impact your cultural interactions. Leaders must understand and articulate what values drive their behaviors and attitudes. This means that leaders must question and challenge, that they explore the deeper stories that give life to their belief systems, and that they are courageous enough to give themselves a “reality check” for any dissonance surfacing between their beliefs and actions.

Too often, I see organizations develop assessments and tools to measure the effectiveness of “the organization as a system,” and forget about the most important system, the “personal value system” that drives most of organizational processes and thinking. By doing this, organizational leaders expect the organization to adapt but do not have the support of its workers. We need to be reminded that organizational systems come about because there are people within the organization who are driven by their personal values and beliefs. Organizations can adapt if the people within them are given the opportunity and resources to adapt.