The Great Experiment

by Sean R. Stegall | April 14, 2020

So here we are. My first blog post and, along with it, the requisite foray back to social media.

So why now? What’s up?

Well, in a word… pandemic.

With much of the world sequestered away doing their best to “flatten the curve,” there’s no better time to reflect on and reinforce and recommit to the ideals of Adaptive Leadership. I imagine that many of you who find your way to this blog are familiar with the concept, and we’ll explore it more in future posts.

While communication is so important in my role as Town Manager, it has even greater meaning during this time of so much uncertainty. I sent what follows to all Town employees, and I thought it would be a particularly good starting point for my blog:

April 7, 2020


Approximately three years ago, we joined in the co-creation of an evolutionary experiment – an experiment designed to re-imagine local government.

Our laboratory? The Town of Cary.

Our Formula? Adaptive Leadership.

Our experiment has involved working together to transform the organization from a rule-bound, top-down, and executive-driven entity into its present form, which emphasizes results over rules, people over process, and everyone over the executives.

Our experiment has also involved a great deal of unlearning – unlearning many deeply-held practices and ways of viewing the world, interpreting information, and managing processes and people.

For the past three years, leadership has been distributed, and our deep reservoir of talent has been unleashed.

For the past three years, while there has been excitement, there have also been many of you who grappled with a sense of loss as the familiar ways of working were heavily modified or eliminated. You were challenged to develop new competencies while still having to perform at the high level this community has come to expect.

For the past three years, we have talked about Keeping Cary Great in a future that would undoubtedly be characterized by a relentless succession of challenges.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are in the midst of the challenge of a lifetime – a pandemic. It is the quintessential example of an organizational, community, and personal challenge that is beyond the expertise of us all.

While there is no declaring victory at this point of a pandemic, please know that your continued excellent performance at this moment is the result of our experiment.

You now expect the unexpected. You are adaptable.

Our organization is now flexible and resilient. We are as prepared as any organization could be.

But let me be clear. Our limits will be tested as the crisis unfolds over many more weeks – if not months. The personal and economic casualties are far from being able to be calculated.

Although the final assessment waits, I am confident we will use our interdependence as a springboard forward into a different – yet still bright – future.

But for now, you have one priority that matters above all else. While we have worked very hard to limit the use of formal authority during our

experiment, I have held this executive prerogative in reserve for when it matters the most. And what matters now more than ever is your health.

Thus, I will make my directive clear and simple:

Your focus must be on staying healthy through this emergency phase of the crisis; every other work priority pales in comparison. Taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally will be crucial to your and our success.

In the days and weeks ahead, I look forward to further discussions about the importance of staying well and revisiting with you the essential elements of adaptive leadership. There is no better time to look back than as we look forward.

In closing, let us be propelled by one another and continue to meet the challenge we face, one we face together.

To your continued health,


I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you in this blog on the application of adaptive leadership in local government, leadership in general, and whatever else may pique my interest.

And I am certainly hoping to hear from you. Related comments, thoughts, and challenges to my thinking are always welcome.


Sean R. Stegall



© 2020 Sean R. Stegall. All rights reserved.