Adaptive Leadership: Leading Without a Map

Adaptive leadership - leading without a map

Adaptive Leadership

Do leaders really know where they’re going? In today’s ever-changing business environment, even the most seasoned leaders cannot always anticipate the waves of rapid, disruptive change that seem to crash at every turn. Of course, there are still stable industries, but even the stodgiest of those are working to be more innovative. Why? Because they can’t predict what’s around the bend. This required adaptive leadership.

Leading in times like these requires people to think differently about what is means to be a leader; all of a sudden, much of what we were taught (if you’re over 35) is being flipped on its head. There are very real reasons why a lot of what we learned in school just no longer applies. We call these Leadership Disruptors and they require new strategies of adaptive leadership to solve.

Leadership Disruptors

  • An incoming generation that values meaning in work and career development over money
  • Changing expectations for the response time from receiving a question and the time needed to find the answer
  • The ability to communicate instantly, all the time…and the expectation to respond
  • New revolutionary technology is a game changer in many industries
  • Increased competition drives a recurring need to constantly reinvent strategies and adapt to unexpected scenarios

…and all of this with a constant requirement to drive breakthrough performances through others to meet shareholder expectations.

On top of that, there are tremendous opportunities brought on by increasing diversity, informed perspectives, and teams of people all over the organization (and often the world) who want to be, expect to be, and should be involved in all things. All this must be lead in a way that drives results.

Adapting to Adaptive Challenges

An expert at that top, who has done it all and can tell others what to do, can effectively handle ‘technical’ challenges – those that require existing activities to be done better, faster, or cheaper.  It is easily apparent that traditional, hierarchical leadership falls pitifully short in the face of today’s more ‘adaptive’ challenges.  These are challenges for which there are no easy answers as most have never been dealt with before and all are forcing a response in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace. Sometimes, just getting people aligned to understand the problem IS the problem that must be solved first.

The challenge for traditional leaders is that solutions to big-hairy-monster type business problems are no longer found in the boardroom. Instead, answers are found in the leader’s ability to mobilize people to define and solve them.  These are people from all levels, functions, generations, perspectives and backgrounds. People who may put their heads together and build something beyond the existing realm of possibility.  People who may challenge the leader and organization to shed old values and behaviors and lose some of what they hold dear to grab ahold of the next frontier.

The biggest challenge to the traditional leader is the risk of loss of control, because the solution to adaptive challenges are often bigger than any one person.

The Adaptive Leader

Adaptive leadership is an essential survival skill.  If your organization is not measuring and talking about it today, they soon will be. The adaptive leader is one who places more value on engaging people in identifying opportunities and mobilizing others to solve problems than they do on being the hero. Adaptive leaders know the real heroes are the facilitators.  They are the catalysts and the impetus for driving collaboration and connecting people around real issues.


Want to learn more about adaptive leadership and mobilizing people? Call us. It’s what we do.