Learn more about Dr. Val Ulstad

Author Bio

Val Ulstad, MD, MPA, MPH, brings over 25 years of academic and private cardiology practice, physician leadership experience, and award-winning teaching skills to her current role as an educator in independent practice and a process consultant, emphasizing leadership capacity building in healthcare. Refocusing a life of “heart work” toward the challenge of facilitating human development, she now works deeply and broadly within organizations and teams to catalyze transformative change. She is a Distinguished Alumna of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and a recipient of the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Lifetime Distinguished Teacher Award. In 1996, she was awarded Archibald Bush Foundation Leadership and Medical Fellowships. She used her awards to support obtaining additional training and graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where she was a student of Dr. Ron Heifetz and was named a Lucius N. Littauer Fellow for distinction in academics. Val is a certified coach of the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara and a trained facilitator for the Center for Courage and Renewal, which promotes the work of Parker Palmer and the Circles of Trust approach. With her life and work partner (Partners at Cascade Bluff, LLC) of over 30 years, she has built an off-the-grid home in far northern Minnesota where they spend half their time.

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Insights

Leading Adaptive Change to Create Value in Healthcare

In pursuit of the Triple Aim, healthcare leaders work hard to improve care, reduce costs, and improve the patient experience. But accomplishing these goals requires an engaged staff that makes progress, day in and day out. Adaptive Leadership (AL) principles help leaders understand human behavior to mobilize change and overcome work avoidance, which happens when staff operate above or below the productive zone of tension.
By understanding what adaptive work actually is (and that adaptive problems can’t be solved with technical fixes), and why work avoidance happens (because people are overwhelmed; the heat is too high), leaders can keep their teams engaged by using influence and leadership—not authority—to “lower the heat” on their people:

Validate the difficulty of the situation.
Simplify/clarify the work.
Provide additional resources (time, training, etc.)

Dr. Ulstad has worked with healthcare leaders and teams for the last 20 years to help them understand behaviors triggered by rapid, high-volume change, and apply AL principles to guide the changes critical to their organizations’ success.

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5 Principles of Adaptive Leadership and Why It’s a Critical Skill for Healthcare Leaders

Adaptive leadership is a leadership language and conceptual framework developed by Ronald Heifetz, MD, as a way to help hardworking leaders bring about change at their organizations. By applying adaptive leadership principles, leaders can enhance their ability to work with others by seeing human behavior differently and making sense of the behaviors triggered by rapid, high-volume change. The following five principles form the framework for adaptive leadership: (1) There are two types of challenges: technical and adaptive. (2) People need a certain amount of tension to do their best work, but the amount of tension needs to be productive. (3) There is a difference between the role of authority and the exercise of leadership. (4) Work avoidance (resistance) means that people are outside the productive range of tension. (5) Reflect in action by spending time on the balcony and the dance floor.

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