Adaptive leadership

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4 min read

Frans Campher is CEO of Integral Leadership Dynamics and Co-Director of our Leadership in a Technology Driven World programme.

Imagine, for a moment, that you and the people you lead are perfectly equipped to deal with the relentless change, ambiguity and complexity of the fast-paced and ever-changing world of business we live in today.

Now, imagine for a moment that they are not only able to survive change, but that they thrive because of it. How might that be?

Quite simply put, adaptive leadership is exactly that: the ability, as a leader, to create an environment of collaboration, creativity and agility that delivers outstanding response to change and that understands how fundamental it is to you, your team and to the organisations success.

Adaptive leaders recognise that the “command and control” leadership style of yesteryear does not resonate with the highly networked and social work forces of today. It stifles the flow of information, demotivates teams and works against innovation. At its worst, it can erode trust and engagement amongst your people.

Change is often scoped in a very controlled, technical way – we focus on the process and systems. Sometimes, we even redraw organisational charts. All well intended of course, however the business impact of a highly controlled environment is that change is slow, results are not what they should be and there is lower engagement. Your teams exhibit very little creativity, they show very little ownership and will often put in discretionary effort to achieve the outcomes you and your stakeholders want.

Human beings are complex and paradoxical in nature. The reason so many change programs fail is because we assume our people will fold in, and unfortunately this is not the case.

Instead, take the adaptive leader approach and put the challenge to your people, ask for their input, notice the tension arising. In fact, the best will create and foster tension so that diverse views emerge. When we embrace diversity, we generate multiple possibilities that deliver better solutions and outcomes – a win-win for all stakeholders.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you are facing an adaptive challenge:

  1. What is the purpose and mission of your business or unit?

Frame the challenge and link it to your overall purpose and mission to maintain a consistent connection with what your team holds dear.

  1. Who are you in this system?

How do you react to change, what biases do you bring into the situation? How does this impact your identity and the way you foster delegation? Being aware of your own biases will open you up to wider and often better possibilities.

  1. What is the adaptive challenge here?

Scope the adaptive challenge by socialising your thinking and asking for input from your people and stakeholders. This will increase trust and engagement and foster greater creativity.

  1. What is your capacity to telescope into the detail? Equally, what does the challenge look like from distance?

Being able to telescope out and look at the whole enterprise system is critical.

  1. What are the essential values and capacities that has made you successful to this point?

Be sure to retain essential values and capacities. By holding onto essential values and capacities you will gain quicker buy in to the change you are seeking.

  1. What have you done to ensure everyone’s input is heard?

It is imperative that all views are heard (even if you do not accept or use them). Once you have heard someone, they are more likely to accept the change you are proposing.

  1. Who are the key people you need to engage on a one-to-one basis?

Make sure you have effective conversations with key stakeholders to understand where they are and what their thinking is in the situation. The greatest fear that people have in change is what they are losing, how their identity, autonomy or status is being impinged. What can you do to mitigate this?

  1. What processes will you put in place to ensure that rigorous debate is fostered?

Generate creative tension and discussion so that there is rigorous debate and the best decisions are forged.

  1. How will you keep your people focused?

Create clear outcomes with your people, ensure accountabilities are understood and accepted, follow up with regular discussion. Keep them focused with regular check-ins.

  1. How will you hold accountability?

Hold individuals and teams accountable to deliver and for results down the line.

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