In an age of constant change and volatility, adaptive leadership is more critical than ever. To be an effective leader in today's world, you need to be able to navigate constantly shifting landscapes and complex challenges. So, what is adaptive leadership, and what are some of the core principles or characteristics that make it possible?
In 2009, two Harvard University professors named Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky introduced the theory of adaptive leadership in their book, "The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organisation and the World." In the book, they define adaptive leadership as "an approach to making progress on the most important challenges you face in your piece and part of the world, presumably in your professional life but perhaps in your personal life as well."
"Adaptive leadership is an iterative activity, an ongoing engagement between you and groups of people. But to strengthen your ability to practice this kind of leadership, you have to start somewhere. The good news is that you can do so at any point in the process," they wrote.
In other words, adaptive leadership is a leadership style that focuses on a goal and the process of achieving it. It is not about commanding or controlling people but rather empowering them to achieve goals together as a team.
Based on Heifetz and Linsky's work, others have tried to develop a framework for adaptive leadership. The following are the most common five principles:
1) Organisational Justice
Organisational justice is about how to treat people in your organisation. It focuses on fairness, being respectful of differences, and having a sense of trust within the group. In a business setting, organisational justice is vital because it can help to improve employee engagement and motivation.
Transparency is about being open and honest with people. It entails, for example, sharing information with employees, stakeholders, and the public in a timely manner. Transparency builds trust and helps create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and offering their ideas. In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, four prominent global business and political leaders say transparency is about more than just being open. "The best adaptive leaders — from business leaders to policymakers to community organisers — have recognised mistakes are likely to be made and actively used them to identify shared learning opportunities," they wrote.
3) Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is about leading with empathy, self-awareness, and the ability to work well in teams. It requires leaders to understand their feelings as well as those of other people around them. While traditional leadership focuses on efficiency and productivity, adaptive leadership also recognises that emotions play a significant role in decision-making.
Almost all leaders, adaptive or not, need to continue developing themselves. This involves learning new skills, keeping up with current trends, and networking with other professionals. Leaders in a constantly changing world also need to be open to change and willing to adapt their styles as required.
The fifth principle of adaptive leadership is mobilisation. This means getting people on board with the goal of developing a plan to achieve it and putting that plan into action. It also involves monitoring progress and making changes as needed. Mobilising people requires charisma, persuasion, and the ability to inspire others.
"Effective responses therefore need to build on collaboration across different sectors, industries and professionals and between international, national and local levels — an ambition that has often proved difficult to put into practice," read the conclusion of the HBR article.
With the ever-growing globalisation of business and the increasing complexity of problems, it has never been more important for leaders to adapt. These five principles provide a good starting point for those looking to develop their adaptive leadership skills. Leaders who can apply these principles will be better equipped to handle the challenges of the modern workplace