As I've noted in previous posts, one of the leadership models that I find most useful is Ron Heifetz' "adaptive leadership." The core concept of adaptive leadership is that, for those of us who seek to engage the more meaningful challenges of leadership, the key is recognizing a question that requires a truly adaptive response (where there isn't a ready answer) and then engaging others to address it. An important point in Ron's introduction to his model is that every living species has to engage adaptive challenges and it is by doing so that we learn to acclimate to new circumstances and thereby learn to thrive. This yearning to survive and thrive is at the core of our motivations and it is one of the greatest potential resources for leaders to tap.
I had a conceptual break-through regarding adaptive work a couple of nights ago. I'm not sure if the idea was part of Heifetz' original insight or if it is a logical extension of it. The break-through resulted from reading an article by Avolio, Walumbwa, and Weber entitled, "Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions" (in Annual Review of Psychology, 2009, pp. 421-449) followed by Ibrahim Kalin's "Sources of tolerance and intolerance in Islam: the case of the people of the book" (in Religions, 2009, published by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue, pp. 36-67).
The Avolio et al piece is a very good summary of the research and theory on leadership, explicitly relating it to Avolio's idea of "authentic" leadership. The "Closing comments and integration" (p. 443) noted several future issues that needed to be addressed in continuing research/theorizing - one of them being research in "cultures that are underrepresented in the literature, such as Muslim cultures." The reference to needing to look at leadership in Muslim cultures was a bit of a surprise and reflected an understanding that perhaps leadership ideas need to be adapted across different cultures - not a new idea, but important.
Kalin asserted that "The Qur'an accepts the multiplicity of human communities as part of God's creation: 'Now had God so willed, He could surely have made them all one single community' (al-Shura 42:8). Multiplicity is presented as contributing to the betterment of human societies whereby different groups, nations, and tribes come to know each other and vie for the common good." (pp. 45-46) By recognizing faith in God as originating from different, but related, core beliefs, Kalin proposes that the diversity of faith perspectives is a natural part of human striving to know the unknowable - each way of knowing and claiming faith becomes a pathway for those of that time and culture, reflecting the essential truth of its believers. As the believers act on their faith, they hopefully improve the human condition for themselves and others rather than falling into divisive conflicts that undermine their own and others' commitments.
The revelation about adaptation came from realizing that changing circumstances and challenges in both faith and leadership require a diversity of views (i.e. species diversity). We come to understand faith/leadership in our own context, time, and need. We may describe our faith/leadership differently but the core of our conviction is frequently more alike than it is different. By viewing faith/leadership as inherently multiplistic, but sharing core truths, we can then begin to understand why faith/leadership is, and must be, different for different cultural groups. The different faith/leadership cultures vie to create good in each of their own ways, hopefully not as a denigration of others' approaches, but as a way to act on the truth that they know.
If we know that the tension of differing perspectives is a source of creativity and innovation among all species, then is it not rational that this same creative tension would also be a source of thriving in our faith and in leadership? So often we act as if faith and leadership are pointed toward some normative unanimity when perhaps the key to progress is appreciating the differences and understanding that circumstances vary and require adaptive responses. The differences and adaptations then become the source of creativity, innovation, and may just take us to a higher and better place.