What is Adaptive Leadership?

28 May 2020

Learning around Adaptive Leadership has seen an understandable increase in interest and uptake during the disruption of COVID-19.

More than the ability to pivotflex and react quickly in one’s own leadership response, Adaptive Leadership is the act of mobilising a group, team or teams who, led by an adaptive leader, will be able to handle tough challenges and emerge positively on the other side.

So, what is Adaptive Leadership, and what are its guiding principles?

Broadly speaking, it is the identification of, and response to, adaptive problems. Distinct from technical problems, for which there is a pre-determined response or go-to experts, adaptive problems are vague and without obvious precedent. There is no pre-existing process or set of established rules for tackling an adaptive problem.

In fact, many well-intentioned leadership failures stem from trying to apply a technical solution to an adaptive challenge, i.e. spending too long trying to use a solution that's worked before, for an entirely new and unfamiliar problem.

Once an adaptive problem has been identified, the Adaptive Leader uses their skill set to mobilise a response by their team. This signposts Adaptive Leadership as sitting within the modern paradigm of leadership, where it is collective: residing in a group or team, instead of residing in an individual.

Adaptive Leadership's Guiding Principles

Emotional Intelligence: with this awareness of situations and how their actions impact the feelings and emotions of others, the Adaptive Leader can develop the trusting relationships required with their team to plan quickly and brainstorm creatively. An emotionally intelligent leader creates an environment that embraces a diversity of views and takes advantage of such collective knowledge to benefit the organisation.

Organisational Justice: adaptive leaders create a culture of honesty and respect with policies and behaviours that show fairness and consistency. Changes are introduced tactfully and appropriately, maximising the organisation’s embracing of them, and everyone’s input is given the weight it deserves. This environment of equality produces the quantity of ideas, and fosters the innovation, required to solve adaptive problems.

Development: at the core of Adaptive Leadership is the idea that you don’t have all the answers to solve all the organisation’s problems, but you are willing to find and develop them. Adaptive Leaders will seek out new strategies, techniques and behaviours as a matter of constant professional development.

Character: Adaptive Leaders have the strength of character to know that they won’t always be right, but that their team and organisation trust them regardless. By practising what they preach and admitting their mistakes, they get respect and engagement from their team, who will work with them, rather than for them, in the head-on facing of complex, adaptive problems.

Eliesha provides engaging and informative online training on the topic of Adaptive Leadership - helping leaders, managers and team members learn about being more flexible and adaptable in their work.

Our Virtual Learning Environments and Webinars also available on a wide variety of timely and relevant topics - can help support your workforce with the skillsknowledge and behaviours they need to navigate your organisation through the current disruption and push on beyond it.

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