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October 23, 2020 Friday 11:11:19 AM IST

Adaptive Leadership in Times of Crisis


Leadership is perceived in an entirely different light nowadays from that in past years. The idea where one heroic individual single-handedly creates results by imposing his will is considered obsolete. Leadership has now become a team sport. Firm managers and other people in leadership positions now work together with their employees to realize goals and initiate changes.

But bearing in mind how volatile and uncertain the business world can be, executives often find it very tough to keep abreast with all the changes. To perform and excel in the corporate world, one needs to be more than high performing. Organizational leaders need to embrace new approaches and techniques to overcome any challenges that come in the way, which is where adaptive leadership comes in.

What is Adaptive Leadership?

Adaptive leadership is a very popular leadership framework introduced by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. It is a practical leadership model that supports people and firms adapt and thrive in challenging situations. It is being able, both independently and jointly, to take on the slow but meaningful process of change. It is about identifying the indispensable from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo. When you accept the fact that all the objectives, innovations and development you want to see in your organization cannot be attained through your current methods, adaptive Leadership is the structure you need to detect, interfere, and revolutionise to create the capabilities that match your organizations ambitions. Adaptive Leadership is purposeful evolution in real time.

4 A’s of Adaptive Leadership

Responding to the crisis requires adaptive leadership, which involves the 4 A’s - Anticipation, Articulation, Adaptation and Accountability.

Anticipation is about foreseeing of likely future needs, trends and options. Having vision involves the ability to clearly imagine a better tomorrow based on what you know today. It involves seeing what needs to be done now to instil positive change and doing it. Let’s recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech. He imagined a radically different future than many before him. Dr. King had a grand vision about the future, but then set about making it a reality in spite of great risks and personal sacrifice. He imagined a country whose future generation are not “judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Of course, many can dream up a “brighter” future, but having vision is grounded to reality as opposed to sentimentalism. And still, this is not enough. Many individuals can imagine a better future, even one that’s realistic, yet not everyone can take the essential steps to ensure that vision comes to realization.

Articulation is about communicating the future needs to build united understanding and support for action. The power of stories is interlaced into the fabric of every culture throughout history. Stories, unlike lectures, orations, and speeches, can tap deeply into the human spirit.  Steve Jobs, the maverick and mythic founder of Apple, Inc., was a master storyteller. Of course, he had many of the other qualities any great leader needs — acumen, vision, grit, and the readiness to take risks, among others — but what he could do better than most was cast a narrative that captured the imagination of the audience. When audiences looked out from their shadowed seats at Jobs standing on a bright stage, they didn’t see the Chief Executive of a Fortune 500 firm. They saw an artist, a visionary, a storyteller. They saw a man donned in neat black turtleneck telling a story about humanity — about how technology has the power to take humanity to unbelievable heights.

Adaptation is about the continuous learning and fine-tuning of responses as necessary. Dr. Edward Miller, CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University in his research article that 90% of individuals who have had coronary-artery bypass grafting surgery due to heart disease restart their previous unhealthy lifestyle after two years. This means even though these people know what they’re doing may literally kill them, they’re unable to meaningfully change their lives. This is appalling, as even the fear of death or dreadful suffering lacks the urgency to cause the majority of people to change. However, Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, realized there are ways to reverse this depressing trend. He believes we can’t simply state facts, but need to access the mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored.

Accountability is about incorporating at most transparency in decision making processes and openness to challenges and feedback. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos could not have built his vast empire and become the biggest retailer on the planet without a lot of support. He’ll be the first to admit that: In a 1998 letter, Jeff told shareholders that it would be impossible to be successful in the internet space without extraordinary people. The letter also outlines three critical questions that Amazon hiring managers should ask themselves to determine whether a candidate will contribute to Amazon’s ongoing success. They are: Will you appreciate this person? Will this person improve the average level of efficiency of the group they’re entering? Along what yardsticks might this person be a superstar? Amazon says the guiding principles behind these questions are still integral to its hiring process.

The qualities linked with adaptive leadership are definitely not new to leadership in general. However, the unexpected pressures faced by leaders to help organizations successfully adapt, particularly during a period when the all too comfortable and conventional leadership models have proven to be ineffective, is something that is quite new. The adaptive leadership model works quite well in these current testing times.













Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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