Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.
Understanding adaptive leadership
Adaptive leadership was first introduced to the world at Harvard University by Dr. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy. Both recognized that the top-down or hierarchical leadership style was outdated and impractical, with no single person able to fix every problem effectively.
Indeed, leadership is now a team sport in modern business. Management is expected to work with other leaders and employees to successfully navigate change, accomplish goals, and emergent triumphant at the other end.
Adaptive leadership does not use traditional problem-solving methods which favor rules, regulations, and protocol. Instead, it relies on dynamic, creative, people-focused solutions. Although popular for years, the leadership style has seen a surge in popularity as businesses face the continual challenges of navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
The adaptive leadership model
Adaptive leadership is defined by a framework of three key components:
- Precious or expendable – when change occurs, businesses naturally question whether certain aspects are still serving them. That is, which elements are worth keeping and which are not? Organizational growth is dependent on leaders moving on from the past and opening up new economic opportunities or ways of operating.
- Experimentation and smart risks – adaptive leaders also understand that growth is beset by challenges. However, they develop and test ideas and then learn from any mistakes.
- Disciplined assessment – with new avenues for growth identified, adaptive leaders implement and monitor the impact of new systems or processes. They actively collaborate with impacted teams and make adjustments where necessary.
The five adaptive leadership principles
Like all leadership styles, there are no predetermined qualities an adaptive leader must display.
In no particular order, here are some that may be useful:
- Organizational justice – otherwise known as fairness. Adaptive leaders need to be open, honest and be willing to have difficult conversations. They must also communicate in facts and with honesty to ensure change is accepted by subordinates.
- Character – adaptive leaders must also be able to earn the respect of those they lead. Here, transparency is important. They must not be afraid to make or admit mistakes, nor must they be afraid of ceasing an initiative that isn’t working. They also embrace the diversity of opinion across the organization.
- Emotional intelligence – or the ability for a leader to perceive the feelings or emotions of others while keeping their own emotions in check. Emotionally intelligent leaders respond to the concerns of others with empathy because they separate the person from the problem they are experiencing.
- Development – adaptive leaders embrace continuous growth and learning and are not averse to trying new problem-solving strategies. The best adaptive leaders also encourage similar values around creativity and innovation in their subordinates.
- Win-win problem solving – lastly, adaptive leaders see conflict resolution as an opportunity to come to a mutually beneficial result. For example, one organization may benefit from a merger with a competitor rather than spending excessive amounts of money trying to beat them.
- Adaptive leadership is a leadership model used by leaders to move organizations through complex or dynamic change. It favors creative, people-focused problem solutions over rules and procedures.
- Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components. Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.
- Adaptive leadership is characterized by the following traits: fairness, transparency, emotional intelligence, continuous growth, and win-win problem-solving.
Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks