As we outlined in 3 Leadership Lessons from Geese, the landscape of leadership in our sectors is changing fast.
And it’s no surprise. As we move farther from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, we’re recognizing that mechanical, rigid organizations built on hierarchy no longer support our ability to handle tough challenges, innovate, and pivot on our path. We’re now seeing that organizations are more like systems or organisms, where people constantly interact with and impact one another.
Inside these systems, management authority doesn’t come from intimidation, chains of command, or the “knight in shining armour” myth of one person doing it alone. Instead it comes from understanding leadership as a practice, not simply a position. In the language of the LEADS framework, leadership is about being, not doing.
The practice of leadership today involves transparency, collaboration, and adaptability. Leaders are increasingly not rewarded for their subject matter expertise, but for their ability to engage, inspire, and motivate teams to do their best work, together… For their skill in creating an intentional workplace culture... And for making people feel like they’re part of something, and that their contributions matter.
This evolution reflects not only the changing landscape of work, which is increasingly complex and inter-connected, but also the evolving expectations of workers. As millennials and baby boomers engage together in the workforce, there can be tension between the way “things have always been done” and the fresh ideas and perspectives that up-and-comers are bringing.
Adaptive Leadership helps organizations leverage and engage these fresh ideas and perspectives to produce better outcomes, solve more complex problems, and produce a more engaged and engaging workplace culture.
Coined by Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz, Adaptive Leadership is essentially about evolving purposefully in real time. It’s patterned after what happens in nature, where successful adaptation allows an organism to thrive despite challenging or changing environments.
Heifetz contrasts Adaptive Leadership to a model he calls Authoritative Expertise. In a world where the problems are known and the solutions clear, Authoritative Experts get the job done. They know what they’re doing, have experience, and can direct everyone around them effectively.
But in environments like community and primary health, which are increasingly marked by complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and rapid change, both the problems and the solutions may be unclear or unknown. This is where we need Adaptive Leaders.
Adaptive Leaders are values-driven. They emphasize finding the right questions over finding the right answer. They think in terms of systems and recognize that several solutions can be right at the same time. They’re not afraid of experimenting. They share power. And they seek out diversity, knowing that diversity truly is strength when it comes to collaborating and innovating.
Adaptive Leaders truly engage the people around them in coming up with ideas, finding solutions, defining problems, and sharing their expertise. They celebrate the contributions of others, and earn loyalty from their teams by allowing them to try new things and fail forward.
Want to learn to become a more Adaptive Leader? Here are some tips to get you started: