Leading Change in Human Service Organisations in the 21st Century

Leading Change in Human Service Organisations in the 21st Century

In today’s organisations, the challenges of leadership are unprecedented. Not only has constant change become the norm, but leaders need a flexible and supportive mindset to creatively change organisational structures, strategies, and cultures due to the increased demands of managing complexities and uncertainties, representing a necessary competence in 21st century professionals in all sectors of society. Additionally, leaders must be able to encourage ‘flexible thinking, an atmosphere of trust, collaboration, creativity, learning, knowledge creation, and innovation’ (Norris 2018, p. 99). Nowadays, Human Service Organisations (HSO), whose ‘business is addressed to human condition’ (Austin 2002, p. 2), are confronted with challenges that rarely present clear boundaries, nor is the path to their solution clearly identifiable. Such organisations provide social services in order to address the needs of individuals, groups, and social problems that aim to prevent, improve or resolve the health, social, and environmental problems defined by either law or the social welfare community at large, such as mental health services, family services, psychosocial therapies, children with learning disabilities, homeless people, among others.

In this context, the ‘Adaptive Leadership’ model (cf. Heifetz et al. 2009) has received great attention due to its support for organisations and professionals in mastering so-called ‘adaptive’ challenges. In HSOs, this requires organisational learning, replacing old management practices, the development of new skills and competencies, the facilitation of personnel development through discomfort situations, and the mobilisation of staff to enact changes in their behaviour, values, and attitudes in uncertain times. In recent years, the key role of leaders has shifted from the traditional logic of giving direction and controlling the workforce to a leadership style that orchestrates, encourages, and mobilises people in change processes through times of uncertainty and difficulty, aiming at structures, processes, strategies, and cultures that facilitate adaptive challenges.

The aim of this paper is to outline the core ideas of the Adaptive Leadership model and to focus on how HSOs can adapt to changing environments in society and evolve into engaging, dynamic, and mobilising institutions. Furthermore, this paper will discuss what competencies leaders in such institutions need to possess to successfully lead changes. In doing so, leadership is regarded as an activity and not simply as a role to be played in HSOs. Eventually, we will draw conclusions as to how adaptive leadership skills can be crucial to make change a success in such organisations.

See Publications: Arnold, M. (2019b). Leading Change in Human Service Organisations in the 21st Century. In idem (eds.), Führung und Organisation: Neue Entwicklungen im Management der Sozial- und Gesundheitswirtschaft (pp. 159-74). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.* URL https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-658-24193-3_8 [16/08/19].

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Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.