Adaptive leadership is a newly developed leadership framework that allows individuals and organizations to see bigger pictures and gain a clear mindset in terms of changing environment and effectively respond to recurring problems and uncertainty. Research by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at Harvard University formed the basis for Adaptive Leadership. More specifically, it is more about how to mobilize people to initiate change and make it thrive.
When there’s a gap between reality and aspiration, then it is time to think about starting changes as adaptive leaders. The gaps are usually the problems, the problem that impedes the way of achieving the desired result, the problem that involves the whole system that is too complex to solve. However, there are two clear kinds of problem: technical problems (that is easy for leaders to recognize and can be solved with a clear solution) and adaptive problems (that is recurring and difficult to define and it takes much more efforts to solve it), furthermore, most problems come mixed, with the technical and adaptive elements intertwined. An adaptive leader should acquire the ability to distinguish the problems and take action accordingly.
Being an adaptive leader in organizations required you must have strong willpower, because being adaptive means you challenging the status quo and frightening people who refused to change and even shattering other’s interest. The authority hired you and trust you to work here not to challenge them but to follow them, so they may even want to get rid of you when you rise a consciousness towards change. Regardless of fears, you need to help people tolerate the discomfort they are experiencing in terms of change, and find the balance between change and productive energy. Your goal should keep the temperature within what we call the productive zone of disequilibrium (PZD): enough heat generated by your intervention to gain attention, engagement, and forward motion, but not so much that the organization (or your part of it) explodes according to Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie.
There are three key activities in the process of adaptive leadership summarized by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky: (1) observing events and patterns around you, and the goal is to make observing as objective as possible; (2) interpreting and guessing what you are observing (developing multiple hypotheses about what is really going on); and (3) designing interventions based on the observations and interpretations to address the adaptive challenge you have identified. Those activities help you to gain insights around your organization and stakeholders, enable you to analyze and mobilize them for the initiative you raised.
There are no absolute answers to how to deal with changing environments, so adaptive leaders need to tracing those changes and design different interventions. No one can accomplish alone, let alone the whole organization’s prosperity. Leaders need to mobilize different stakeholders and find common values in between. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Find a shared purpose and value is difficult, especially with different stakeholders when some party has to narrow their interest and make sacrifices when moving forward. Before the conversation engagement, you also need to find out their readiness and ripeness to develop different strategies, to analyze whether your stakeholders know the importance of issues and furthermore, whether they are willing to take action and their capacity.
Adaptivity is the key to success even in the future, Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky have explained it in their book: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Please find more thorough information about adaptive leadership.
This article was edited by the original author without their consent, and should not be reproduced.