Adaptive Leadership 101
Adaptive leadership a leadership model that was introduced by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky.
ImportantAdaptive leadership can be defined as the act of mobilizing a group of individuals to handle tough challenges and emerge triumphant in the end.
Leadership should now be considered a team sport.
WarningThe idea where one heroic individual single-handedly generates results by enforcing his will is considered outdated.
It turns out that to survive and thrive in the business world, one needs to be more than high performing.
Leaders need to adopt new strategies to overcome any challenges that come in the way, which is where adaptive leadership comes in.
Adaptive leadership is a management framework designed to help organizations embrace change and uncertainty.
ImportantThis leads companies to successfully adapt, while staying true to their values and strengths.
In one word, adaptive leadership is a way to work within the fast-changing landscape of today’s business world.
By forgoing the traditional top-down leadership framework, the approach seeks to create a more inclusive environment where all employees are encouraged to identify and solve problems.
This tactic eventually boosts employee curiosity, engagement and connection.
In this article, we are covering the core dimensions of adaptive leadership — as per described by Ronald Heifetz — as well as its main principles.
Navigating Business Environments
Adaptive leaders must be flexible and accept change as part of the business lifecycle.
Adaptive professionals don’t fear uncertainty, and instead, they embrace it. A great adaptive leader learns from change and uses it to find better solutions.
Taking an adaptive approach means thinking outside of the box and challenging the way things have always been done.
WarningAn adaptive leader cares less about procedures that rule the business world and more about what path is the best way forward for all members of the organization.
When you do the same thing over and over, you can expect the same result.
ImportantAdaptive leaders know how to create an environment that embraces diversity of views and takes advantage of such collective knowledge to benefit the organization.
One of the great failures, when a company failed to navigate the business environment correctly, is Kodak. It was a large, profitable business. When digital technology came on the scene, Kodak felt secure that digital would never become better than film. They were wrong.
When events are not going well, you need to change what you’re doing to make the situation better.
You need to become flexible and embrace change. You need to think about approaches other than the way it’s always been done.
Change is inevitable. No organization is immune to change, and adaptive leadership is about being ready for change at all times.
ImportantRules are made to be broken. Because change is the only constant for many businesses, this means the rules have to be rewritten often.
Leading with Empathy
Understanding what’s best for all members of the organization leads to empathy.
It’s imperative to understand the viewpoints of employees, stakeholders and customers. In fact, adaptive leaders argue it’s the only real way to fully meet their needs.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your own feelings and those of other people.
ImportantWith this awareness, an adaptive leader is able to build trust with other participants and foster quality relationships.
You need to treat employees with empathy and compassion to ensure they stay and help you foster business success.
WarningIf you can’t understand where your employees and customers are coming from, you will have a difficult time meeting their needs. If you can’t meet the needs of your customers and employees, they will leave you and go elsewhere.
Emotional Intelligence is basically a combination of being both highly self-aware and aware of others. It is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and also regulate the way one reacts to others’ emotions.
Adaptive leaders are as concerned with relationships as they are profits.
ImportantThat understanding helps them ensure that organizational members and other stakeholders are supportive of any long-term changes.
Adaptive leaders understand their employees aren’t made from a cookie cutter and that what motivates one may not work for another.
They understand how to approach employees with empathy and understanding, which, in turn, creates a positive workplace where employees are more likely to stay.
Learning Through Reflection
Leaders make mistakes just like everyone else. An adaptive leader learns from them and adjusts accordingly.
ImportantThey also encourage the rest of the business to do the same. This can create a culture of experimentation, which facilitates finding the best solutions to recurring problems.
Adaptive leadership entails learning new things.
WarningIf one technique is not yielding desired results, an adaptive leader goes out of his or her way to discover new strategies that can work. With new techniques, both the employees and the company at large will experience growth and development.
When managers and employees reflect on their failures as well as their successes, they can find what works and what doesn’t through a series of trial and error.
This approach can be most successful when leaders give employees room to try new things and permission to fail from time to time.
It means accepting feedback, as well. What are your employees saying? What are your customers saying? Do surveys and look at the data. You can’t just ask and ignore it. You need to reflect on what works and what does not and take the risk to change it.
Adaptive leaders are experimenters.
ImportantThey are prepared to reflect on their work and redirect as needed. They understand that tackling vague, complex issues requires trial and error.
Adaptive challenge invites leaders into the “balcony “.
Being “in the dance” means being present in the day-to-day interactions with people and getting involved. Getting “on the balcony” means stepping back, gaining perspective and looking for the bigger picture of how success can be achieved.
Creating Win-Win Solutions
Adaptive leaders ignore the idea of crushing competitors and ruling with an iron fist.
They find solutions for multiple people and organizations so everyone wins whenever possible. Adaptive leaders see the value of partnerships and explore opportunities for more than one organization or individual to achieve success simultaneously.
What’s good for you is good enough, right? Well, if you want to stay in business for a very short time, this works.
ImportantWhen you can come together with solutions that work for multiple organizations, you’ll find a lot more success.
Instead of cutthroat competition, podcasters are creating win-win scenarios for each.
Josh Hallmark created Two Pods a Day to create win-win scenarios for podcasters. You can do the same for your business. Look for win-wins instead of divide and conquer situations.
This dimension of adaptive leadership can feel weird if you’re used to operating strictly as a competitor, but what if you and your competitors could help each other out?
Leaders must concentrate on more than the bottom line to win in the marketplace.
ImportantBy connecting with its community, an organization can benefit others while increasing customer loyalty and reputation as an organization of choice.
Your success depends on the participation and involvement of its external suppliers, vendors, and customers.
Empower them to engage in decision making and ask for their views regularly.
The characteristics of an adaptive leader may not be the typical ones pictured in a business leader.
Practicing an adaptive approach is challenging because it often goes against the way we normally operate and how we make sense of the world.
Adaptive leadership involves buy-in from all members of the organization.
WarningThis means adaptive leaders must encourage all individuals involved to shift their mindset and demonstrate the characteristics of an adaptive leader. This can be a challenge for employees who like the status quo and have no interest in changing the organization.
What are the ways that you can take an adaptive approach and buck the norms you think of when you picture a leader?
ImportantAdaptive leaders consistently demonstrate a group of characteristics. Four key adaptive leadership traits emerge. They include the following:
The adaptive leader understands that change can be a painful process.
WarningTherefore, he or she can foresee and counteract any reluctant behavior from teammates.
Shifting individuals’ values, beliefs, and perceptions is usually more difficult than flossing a cat’s teeth.
He or she clearly understands that large-scale change is a gradual process, which calls for persistence and a willingness to bear the pressure that comes along with that.
Although adaptive leadership requires a great deal of effort, it provides substantial returns.
ImportantBased on credible statistics, firms that are adaptive end up with immense gains both financially and operationally. They are able to weather storms and rise to the top even during periods of volatility.
Becoming an adaptive leader can be scary, especially for new managers.
WarningIn order to transfer responsibility to staff, or allow a team self-organize around a problem, a leader must first understand their comfort level with the unknown and tolerance for risk.
Adaptive Leadership is not easy, it’s “Leadership without Easy Answers“.
ImportantNevertheless that is IMO the leadership we need in today’s world of rapid change and complexity.
Optimal talent mix entails using everyone’s skills rather than just those of top-level executives.
If you want to become a great leader, try adopting these principles of adaptive leadership and witness the new life, your new behavior can breathe into your organization. Let me know if you have implemented adaptive leadership in your organization in the comments below!