Adaptive and Agile Leadership

Adaptive and Agile

So many of the world’s problems, and the issues that organizations, businesses, and people face every day can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky discussed a new way to lead the charge to change in their book in 2009 entitled, “Adaptive Leadership”.

Adaptive Leadership calls for moving beyond outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide your organization in the 21st century. Adaptive leadership combines established ways of leading with new skills and new perspectives for dealing with unprecedented challenges.

I am currently engaged in writing a book about this need for adaptive leadership. I am choosing to talk about it in terms of being “agile” in our leadership. I don’t believe the words are interchangeable. But they are certainly synergistic.

What is the difference?

The differences to me are subtle. But they are real. An adaptive leader is usually discussed in terms of their ability to bring change to an organization or to guide the organization through a change that may be thrust upon them Agile leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with the people and the processes that will be affected by the change.

If it were easy, everyone would be adaptive or agile leaders and everyone would be successful. It is important to note, that in most organizations, the status quo is acceptable. Growth is considered good, while change is often viewed as bad. The problem is that people tend to create an environment in which they’re most comfortable, regardless of how dysfunctional it may in fact be. People fear the loss of the familiar far more than they fear change. Many will even resist change when they know that it’s a good thing and necessary in order for the organization to survive and remain viable to its mission.

As leaders, we must adjust our approach to assessing and address how we guide people through their “losses” (real or imagined). We must learn to discern between “technical” and “agile” issues.

This is the crux of agile leadership. For example, in a merger or an acquisition, grafting together two firms’ computer environments is actually a technical job. A team of certified systems or software engineers can handle that task. However, figuring out how, and discovering the synergies between each company’s culture and values is an agile leadership challenge that requires a healthy understanding of the role that emotions and emotional intelligence plays in the ultimate success of the merger.

So what is the leadership lesson here? 

Agile leadership is built on the foundation of higher degrees of emotional intelligence than typical. Finding a way to bring convergent organizations and teams together while keeping the energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, wisdom, values and the energy that created that original organization is crucial to finding new ways of leading and facing the new challenges that come our way on a daily basis. Agile leadership happens when we communicate and connect on a level that is not solely based upon facts and data.

And here is one final leadership truth. People don’t learn by staring in the mirror; they learn by engaging with others. Agile leaders welcome different viewpoints and resolve conflict across organizational and individual boundaries. But conflict is inevitable. And change is disruptive. Agile leaders must be willing to go the extra mile and they must prepare for and offset these emotional reactions that our followers will experience.

What kind of leader are you? 

Do you see a need for agile leadership in your organization? Do you see yourself as an agile leader? And if you are not one currently, do you see yourself developing the skills to become one?

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