HKS Authors

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It would be profoundly reassuring to view the current economic crisis as simply another rough spell that we need to get through. Unfortunately, though, today’s mix of urgency, high stakes, and uncertainty will continue as the norm even after the recession ends. Economies cannot erect a firewall against intensifying global competition, energy constraints, climate change, and political instability. The immediate crisis—which we will get through, with the help of policy makers’ expert technical adjustments—merely sets the stage for a sustained or even permanent crisis of serious and unfamiliar challenges. The danger in the current economic situation is that people in positions of authority will hunker down. They will try to solve the problem with short-term fixes: tightened controls, across-the-board cuts, restructuring plans. They’ll default to what they know how to do in order to reduce frustration and quell their own and others’ fears. Their primary mode will be drawing on familiar expertise to help their organizations weather the storm. People who practice what we call adaptive leadership do not make this mistake. Instead of hunkering down, they seize the opportunity of moments like the current one to hit the organization’s reset button. They use the turbulence of the present to build on and bring closure to the past. In the process, they change key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization, and redefine the work people do.


Heifetz, Ronald A., Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. "Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis." Harvard Business Review. July/August 2009.