I found this book to be very helpful for three of its main elements. The first element is his approach to defining problems and the two basic types of responses available. "Technical change" is the application of current knowledge, skills and / or tools to resolve a situation. "Adaptive change" is called for when the problem cannot be solved with one's existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behaviour.
The second element is his definition of leadership as an activity that seeks to bring about change, which is engaged in through the conferred authority of those being led. This basic assertion allows Heifetz to explore the similarities and differences between leaders with "formal authority" (officeholders who by their role promise to meet certain expectations), leaders with "informal authority" (those with the promise of meeting the expectations of a coalition of people whom they serve, such as Martin Luther King) and leaders "without authority" (those who work to bring about change without having a formal role nor the support of a group of people being represented"). Heifetz's exploration of the powers and constraints of these three types of leadership as well as how one can evolve into the other is astute and informative.
The third element which is very helpful is Heifetz's four principles for bringing about adaptive change:
I found Heifetz's ideas immensely helpful for leadership in church settings. Situations present themselves regularly today to which the "tried and true" responses seem no longer to work. On many different fronts congregations face issues of cultural change. But rather than resolve our issues congregations too often get tied up in "work avoiding" behaviour, which displaces people's focus in order to reduce the distress spawned by the spectre of change. Heifetz's book helps the the leader to focus on the need and provides a perspective to help people resolve it. The book's only short-coming, perhaps, is not giving even more attention to how effectively organizations can consciously or inadvertently go about defeating movements of change. If you are really interested in how to effect organizational change, add to your reading list "Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning" by Chris Argyris (Prentice Hall, 1990). Heifetz and Argyris together are perfect companions as resources for leaders enabling change today.
I recommend "Leadership
without Easy Answers" to church leaders without reservation, confident that you
will find it as helpful as I have. The first chapter (primate studies) may make you wonder
why I gush over this book, but hold on.... the great stuff follows!
Peter Coutts @ Oakridge Church, London