“I had to make some big decisions towards the end of last year, and the tools you introduced helped me to think these through more carefully.”Tiffany Morrison – Professor, Environmental Policy & Governance, James Cook University
We’re not sure how many adaptive leadership practitioners show up to rooms populated entirely by evolutionary biologists and scientists. We had the wonderful privilege of doing so in late 2022 when we travelled to Townsville, Bindal & Wulgurukaba Country. We worked with 15 biological and social scientists at the James Cook University, Coral Reef Centre of Excellence to develop their adaptive leadership capacity. After two years of working with Polykala, using our approach to diversity and inclusion, they wanted to take things a little deeper and more systemic, so we spent two days introducing adaptive leadership and applying it to their context.
The two-day intensive revealed how subject matter expertise doesn’t always equate to skill in managing organisational complexity or practising leadership, where leadership makes a difference to the status quo. Why? Because academia, rightly, values expertise and expertise is accumulated over time and therefore builds, maybe inadvertently, steep hierarchies that are immune to change. The fact that Polykala are outsiders helped build a supportive holding environment. This enabled the team of researchers and centre directors to show vulnerability, interpret playfully and put aside their knowledge to try new ways of thinking and relating to each other and the collective challenges they face.
Looming, like a whale shark in the room (if you don’t mind the mixed metaphor) was climate change. Every one of these academics’ work grappled with the social and ecological effects of a changing climate. It was an honour to help them gain a better handle on how they might practise leadership to enable centres of higher learning and research to better respond to the big challenges facing us all. A few months later we heard from Professor Tiffany Morrison sharing her reflections on her time with us:
“The shift for me regarding leadership has really been about thinking through change and changing leadership in a more comprehensive and systematic way. I had to make some big decisions towards the end of last year, and the tools you introduced helped me to think these through more carefully.” Tiffany Morrison – Professor, Environmental Policy & Governance, James Cook University