Water Cooler Conversation – Heifetz and Brown

If Heifetz and Brown met at the watercooler, they might enjoy a heated discussion – neither would shy away from conflict or debate, especially about topics they are passionate about.

Heifetz will suggest that leaders need to step back and assess the situation in a broad way. Brown will argue that this has been happening in the last couple of decades, yet nothing seems to be accomplished, and although divergent thinking is valuable, many of the environmental concerns are too great to wait for leaders to continue to “get off the dance floor and onto the balcony” as Heifetz suggests (Heifetz and Linsky, 30). Heifetz will agree that leaders might need to respond quickly at times, but will also remind Brown that it is important to give the work back, and to make people accountable for their own behavior and beliefs changes – and that this will offer a long-term solution. Brown’s response will be to tell Heifetz to “get with the program” and understand the urgency of the situation. The world needs to act now – leaders should establish necessary rules regarding the environment, water usage, and food production. People should follow them, and that there are simply too many people on the Earth to wait for them to change themselves.

Heifetz and Brown will agree on a number of points however. They will talk about how real sustained change cannot occur only from the top-down, and that individuals will be required to act – both individual and group behavior change is necessary. Leaders will be required to embrace conflict that occurs between individuals and groups, and manage it instead of suppressing it. This conflict could bring about creative solutions to water shortages and food security. They will also suggest that current leaders might not be willing or able to facilitate this change and conflict, regardless of the change process used.

Brown might say that there are many complex ecological system challenges, but that many can and should be addressed with swift and immediate technical solutions – even forcing difficult behavioral and cultural changes necessary for the Earth to sustain itself. Heifetz might respond that, while this is “all well and good,” people will resist change without adaptive, compassionate leadership. Forced changes might only be temporary, and that a mix of adaptive and technical solutions are necessary for lasting change to such complex systems.


Brown, Lester. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Heifetz, Ronald and Linsky, Marty. (Fall 2002) Leading with an Open Heart. Leader to Leader. pp. 28-33.

Melinda, MBA Candidate 2013



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