What is Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive Leadership – Embrace Failure, and Leadership vs. Authority

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.

Embrace failure

Adaptive leaders embrace failure. Adaptive leaders provide platforms that enable experimentation, learning, and opportunities to reflect on both success and failure. Adaptive leaders embrace failure as a learning opportunity and experimentation is rewarded even if the intended outcome is not achieved.

The key is to keep moving forward. There needs to be a quick determination of why something failed and then move on.

Adaptive leaders and their teams become more resilient. They learn from mistakes and grow stronger. Success is achieved when leaders keep going and persevere through adversity. Failure is when they give up trying.

The adaptive leader’s stance is if they are not making mistakes, they are not trying hard enough. Successful companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Coca-Cola embrace failure. We cannot learn unless we fail, and we cannot succeed without impediment.

Adaptive leaders give everyone permission to fail. It will energise an organization.

As Thomas Edison is quoted as saying: “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

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Leadership versus authority

Adaptive leadership is not about authority. It is about instilling a sense of responsibility for the organization across the entire workforce. Leadership is shared. In a world of constant and volatile change, leadership cannot be the responsibility of one person all of the time.

Leadership is everyone’s business and is taken on by the person best positioned to make a decision or take action. Adaptive leadership is about allowing leadership to be distributed. Adaptive leaders build employees who can anticipate what is going to happen, prepare for it, adapt to it, recover from any setbacks, and keep going in the face of adversity.

The adaptive leader has to model resilience every day so that the ability to face relentless challenges, be positive and optimistic, and calmly react to stressful situations permeates throughout the organization.

Adaptive leaders create a shared sense of purpose and manage through influence, not command and control.

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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