Adaptive Leadership - constructive conflict and focus

Adaptive Leadership – constructive conflict and focus

In my last series of blogs, I explored the “Give It Up” model whereby true leaders need to move from a command and control style of leadership and towards one of delegation and trust.

Not only do leaders need to give up control, but they also need to become adaptive leaders and be able to chart a course when they cannot predict the outcome of their choices.

My Adaptive Leadership Model below illustrates what a leader has to undertake to become an adaptive leader.

Constructive conflict

As mentioned in my last blog, some adaptive leaders encourage disagreement to ensure that assumptions are challenged. They encourage constructive conflict.

Adaptive leaders do this to keep employees open to new ideas, opinions, and potential solutions. They encourage everyone to contribute and they build an environment of mutual trust and respect so that employees feel safe to participate actively.

The adaptive leader will make the sharing of differences the expectation, constructive conflict about issues, and ideas the norm. They will focus on the things people have in common as well as the differences they bring to the table.

Employees should be publicly recognized and rewarded when they are prepared to disagree with the direction of the team and question the thought process. This will encourage others to do the same.

Agile Consultation

Adaptive leaders often have to act as a thermometer. They turn up the heat when they want people to sit up and pay attention. They encourage constructive conflict but then know when to turn down the heat in order to reduce a counterproductive level of tension. They also have to act as a pacemaker. When looking to encourage constructive conflict, the leader needs to set the pace. They need to assess the situation and its context, calculate the risk of the conflict and then set the pace accordingly. This allows course changes to be made midstream.

The adaptive leader will ensure that employees are expected to present their ideas and opinions backed by supporting data and facts. The leader will provide a code of ethics by which conflict and debate are undertaken. For example, personal attacks on colleagues will not be tolerated, everyone’s opinion is valued, and everyone has a voice.

Constructive conflict will result in increased participation in decision-making, better-informed decision-making through an increase in available information, increased collaboration and productivity and increased understanding of others’ beliefs and perspectives.


Adaptive leaders know when to change the pace. In a world of relentless change, there can be increasing pressure from more and more demands. The adaptive leader knows when they need to focus on the ones that really matter.

Adaptive leaders need to maintain focus on what is important and not get distracted by things of lesser importance. In a pressure situation with many demands, it is often easy to get distracted by the things that are easier or more comfortable to deal with.

When the going gets tough, employees can get distracted or avoid dealing with the challenges by passing the buck, blaming management, pointing the finger elsewhere, or putting their head in the sand. The adaptive leader needs to hold steady in the face of these distractions and refocus everyone’s attention on the real challenge at hand. They need to keep employees focused on the priority work that needs to get done in the pressure cooker of constant change.

Game score

Leadership in the face of volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous change has to be adaptive.

Adaptive leaders need to know when to operate in the fray, and when to get off the field and watch from the sideline.

They will embrace losing a game as a learning opportunity and the team will bounce back ready to play the next game. They will have empathy and be able to walk in another’s shoes to understand their perspective. Players are inspired to be accountable and make decisions.

Adaptive leaders expect and embrace change. It is their reality. The teams they build are dynamic and embrace change, and they channel any uncertainty into positive outcomes through collaboration and communication.

Adaptive leaders clearly articulate their intent and then let the players get on with the game. The players will ultimately win or lose the game.

In subsequent posts in this series, I will be exploring the additional elements of the Adaptive Leadership model.

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