In nature anything that doesn’t adapt to changing conditions will perish. It’s the same in business. Change is accelerating. No business is future proofed and no business can afford to be left behind.
Leadership has shifted too
The old success strategy of self-reliance on tenure and specialist knowledge is redundant. The context for leadership has changed from the ‘what’ frame to more of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ frames.
People don’t want to be told what to do, they want to be shown how to succeed.
Leaders today need to be both vulnerable and strong, steady and agile, accountable and innovative – which is not easy in complex and challenging environments.
Leaders increasingly face challenges where there is no clear answer and where the right decision still needs to be made. Adaptive problems require adaptive leadership.
Navigating this world of ambiguity, complexity and change requires leaders who can adapt to the changing conditions by thinking fluidly, reading the cues and getting constant feedback to help fine tune how they show up and bring people with them.
Adaptive leaders are strong left and right brain thinkers. It’s this combination of rational left brain (which houses logic, language, reasoning and analysis) and emotional right brain (which houses emotions, intuition and creativity) that allows leaders to be agile and adaptive.
- Smart leaders with a high capacity for problem solving won’t get very far is they can’t relate to people, read the cues around them and know when to move or to hold back.
- Leaders who are socially savvy won’t get very far if they don’t have the thinking capacity to see the gaps, link the logic, and anticipate the consequences.
We all have blind spots that will limit our ability to adapt.
Richard was super smart, and – in his own words – a decisive and confident leader who led from the front. He wasn’t aware others found his thinking too narrow, where he decided too quickly and defended his thinking too easily. Even when he listened, his team felt their views were judged and dismissed. It wasn’t until Richard got a jolt through some constructive feedback that realised he needed to shift his leadership. Richard began with us addressing his fears and insecurities that underpinned his need for certainty and control.
The person who is the most adaptable will have the most influence.
My model for adaptive leadership has three key competencies:
- How leaders think: thinking agility
- How they read the cues: emotional intelligence
- How they adapt their natural thinking style: behavioural flexibility
Let me bring these competencies to life for you briefly.
Adaptive leaders learn from their own experience and apply those insights differently in different contexts. They keep an open mind, move between different thinking styles, ask great questions, challenge their own thinking and hold multiple scenario’s in mind before coming to a conclusion.
When we think about something differently, we change how the problem is defined.
How would you rate your thinking agility out of 1-10?
Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Self-awareness and EQ go hand in hand. We’re not designed to have a thought and not react to it in some way. EQ is all about recognising our own feelings and those of other people, so we can manage our relationships the way we would like.
EQ allows us to read the cues around us, see the nuances of others and understand our own patterns for how we think and behave.
Often people have a bigger gap between their intention and impact than they realise.
How would you rate your EQ out of 1-10?
We all have a natural style and preferences for how we think and behave. We all have a comfort zone in our relationships and how we like them to work.
Behavioural flexibility describes our ability to ‘flex’ our natural, core, or preferred behaviours so that we respond to different people and circumstances in the most effective way. For example, an introverted leader might be more assertive and speak up first in a meeting.
How would you rate your behavioural ability out of 1-10?
Bringing it all together
Most people rate themselves much higher on these competencies compared to how their colleagues would see them.
Becoming an adaptive leader is a mindset and skillset that is learned. It takes self-awareness and it’s worth the effort for any leader who wants to future-proof their leadership. Which one of these areas could you pay more attention to? I’d love to know.