Is Your Vision Creating an Adaptive Gap?

It is often said that if leaders want to see high achievement they must cast bold visions. It is less often pointed out that proclaiming a large vision creates a gap between the vision and the current reality that must be managed. Ron Heifetz, in his book Adaptive Leadership puts it this way.

“Adaptive challenges are gaps generated by bold aspirations amid challenging realities.”

Vision Creates Gaps

“Wait a minute,” you say, “I was hoping that my leadership vision would help things move ahead. I wasn’t trying to create gaps!”

But that is precisely what true vision does. True vision calls us to venture into unknown territory, to take risks, to innovate — “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Or, to put it in Heifetz’s terms, vision creates a gap between current realities and the preferred future. The bolder the vision and the more challenging the realities, the larger the gap. Good vision casting understands this. It’s goal is to “widen the gap” in a way that appeals to our desire for achievement and sense of adventure.

Gaps Call for New Learning

One of the most powerful ways to frame the gap between reality and vision is to understand it as a challenge that calls for adaptation and new learning. The way to bridge and adaptive gap is not to work harder. You’re probably already working as hard as you can. Instead, an adaptive challenge is a call to work smarter, replacing current strategies, tools, and methods with new ones that help you move faster and farther with the same effort.

Do any of you have examples of vision creating an adaptive challenge? A gap that calls for new learning? How are you meeting the challenge of bridging your adaptive gap?

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