Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive companies are very tolerant of failure.

“We believe that companies are dying younger because they are failing to adapt to the growing complexity of their environment. Many misread the environment, select the wrong approach to strategy, or fail to support a viable approach with the right behaviors and capabilities”.
Reeves, Levin & Ueda, Harvard Business Review, January – February 2016

Organizations therefore need to create environments that encourage the knowledge flow, diversity, autonomy, risk taking, sharing, and flexibility on which adaptation thrives. It is not a question of organization only. Strategy follows organization (Drucker). But to apply the right strategy you need the right people at the right time. An adaptive and learning organization needs adaptive people. Flexible organizations need people with the capacity of adapt themselves very fast to context’s dramatic changes, as well as with the hability of recognize opportunities to develop innovative competitive advantages.

Melissa Kieling
The case of Melissa Kieling is a good example of what we explained in this module: From Single Mom to CEO of an $11 Million Company.

Another case of adaptive learning is IKEA: IKEA: Furnishing Good Employee Benefits Along with Dining Room Sets.
IKEA has long been known for its support of environmental issues and children’s causes as well as efforts to nurture employees. “The [real] commitment is to match their stores’ needs with those of employees, using flexible work schedules, job sharing, compressed work weeks and other techniques.

The practice of adaptation

A changemaker is a leader. Not born but made. (Adapted from: Fast Company)
Managers need to develop a special kind of leadership for adapting themselves to a fast changing society: Adaptive leadership, which is about change that enables the capacity to thrive. New environments and new dreams demand new strategies and abilities, as well as the leadership to mobilize them. As in evolution, these new combinations and variations help organizations thrive under challenging circumstances rather than perish, regress, or contract. Leadership, then, must wrestle with normative questions of value, purpose, and process (Source: Heifetz, Grashow & Linsky – The practice of adaptive leadership).
How organization’s leaders and managers could develop the abilities to adapt?

Diagnose the system

  • Step back from operations and see how your organization is responding adaptive challenges.
  • Consider three major components : Structure, Culture, Defaults.
  • Discover structural implications and find supportive and impeding structures for adaptive leadership.
  • Understand the cultural norms and forces within your organization.

The DIAGNOSE is not a role of middle or top management. It is a systematic practice done in teams. It requires promoting among the employees and stakeholders a positively critical perspective and continuous reflection on the organizational contexts and challenges.

Diagnose the political landscape
Understanding the political relationships in your organization is key to seeing how your organization works as a system. For each stakeholder, you need to identify her:

  • Stake in the adaptive challenge at hand. How will she be affected by resolution of the challenge?
  • Desired outcomes. What would she like to see come out of a resolution of the issue?
  • Level of engagement. How much does the person care about the issue and the organization?
  • Degree of power and influence. What resources does the person control, and who wants those resources?

Equally important, you must identify each stakeholder’s:

  • Values. What are the commitments and beliefs guiding the behaviors and decision-making processes?
  • Loyalties. What obligations does the person have to people outside his or her immediate group.
  • Losses at risk. What does the person fear losing if things should change?
  • Hidden alliances.

Help your people to become adaptive leaders.

Help them to:

  • Identify their many identities: People need to accept that there are different but authentic selves required for them to be effective in each role they play.
  • Identify and prioritize your loyalties: To better understand themselves as a system, they should be able to examine their colleagues, community and ancestors.
  • Know their tuning through knowing their triggers and paying attention to their hungers and others’ expectations.
  • Broaden their bandwidth and discover their tolerances: exercising adaptive leadership requires that they be willing and competent at stepping into the unknown and stirring things up.
  • Understand their roles and know their scope of authority.
  • Articulate their purposes and prioritize them.

Adaptive leaders help others do the work by mobilizing, motivating, organizing, orienting and focusing their attention of what is important. Adaptive leadership is about DISTRIBUTED KNOWLEDGE AND LEADERSHIP.

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