The Secret of Adaptive Leadership

Secrets of Adaptive Leadership: The Antidote to VUCA

Adaptive Leadership: The Antidote to VUCA

VUCA. The acronym that reminds us we live and work in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world. As if we needed reminding. I don’t think we have one client that isn’t trying to compensate for the pace of rapid, disruptive change, whether it be through restructuring, prioritization, building resilience, or equipping leaders to increase their change agility. All of those things are critical, but there is an easier answer: Adaptive Leadership.

Organizations today face challenges the likes of which have never been seen before. These challenges require us to make trade-offs and prioritize values, change behavior, think differently, collaborate more, and find new and different ways to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. Often, these challenges cannot be addressed by doing things better, faster and cheaper than we did yesterday. They require leaders to think differently, create alignment between leaders and teams (often with very diverse perspectives), and mobilize them to execute, most frequently without direct authority. There is no time to waste. The luxury of trial and error is gone. Leaders must get it right the first time, every time, but how?

What is Adaptive Leadership?

The notion of adaptive leadership challenges organizations to be more open, more collaborative… to spend more time on alignment and less time reworking solutions that didn’t work. Adaptive leadership is about creating conversations that get to the heart of the real issue or opportunity. These are conversations that drive learning for both parties and create welcome feedback loops to invite dissent and don’t assume (never assume) they have all the answers. Because in a VUCA world, that’s simply not possible.

But how, in the face of everything organizations ‘know’ about leadership, do they suddenly equip themselves to do things differently? Having taught adaptive leadership strategies (The Influence Workshop) for the past 10 years, I can say with certainty, it is not complicated, but it does take intentional focus. Like a good game of tennis (which I would argue is much less important), becoming an adaptive leader takes practice and requires a framework. It is a discipline that values being open and gathering (and giving) feedback over being right, a willing to learn over having all the answers, honesty around the real issues over image and that values alignment and accountability over a fast start. It is a discipline that values pre-work over rework and understands the cost of misalignment.

There is much written about adaptive leadership. Premier leadership researchers, Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at Harvard University agree with us that,

‘The single most common source of leadership failure in any sector – is that people treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.’ – Leadership On The Line

We see this every day in corporations because problems that require people to think differently are tough. They are complex and they require a different kind of leadership – Adaptive Leadership.

If your organization really needs the antidote to VUCA, if your people need to drive rapid, sustainable change without getting burned out, a shift to Adaptive Leadership should be on your organization’s top five list of capabilities to build.

Want help thinking through how adaptive leadership can work for you? Call us, it’s what we do.