Adaptive Leaders: Using Process and Intuition to Make Decisions

The conversation I want to open up over the next series of posts is about “walking the intuition and thinking tightrope”. I have been thinking about Adaptive Leadership as a concept for some years. Instinctively we would say…”of course leaders need to adapt, if they don’t change it can really impact their success”. At the same time, what if a leader must rise above trendy iterations? Not easy to be instinctively going against the flow of other “lemming leaders” marching into a sea of needless change. That might be called “Adeptive Leadership”.

Adaptive leaders CAN CHANGE…OR NOT. Adaptive leadership is experienced as being anchored to values and purpose, not just throwing things at a wall hoping they stick and hope it will redirect the course of your business or life. Adaptive leaders have a firm, but gentle grip on what they believe to be true and effective. They freely hand over their ideas and beliefs for thorough examination by their constituents.

Leaders need to balance their use of process and intuition. I am a big fan of process and mental models to use as maps for leaders to navigate decision making and personal development. Yet, process alone will not guarantee optimum success in decision making. If you are actively seeking excellence there will be many times you have to “trust your gut” too. It is not something everyone does well and some rely too much on just their gut instincts. Together they become a very potent way to make decisions.

When there are big numbers and organizational success or survival at stake it is very difficult to make decisions with very little information. So, you seek information like it is gold. Adaptive leaders are always seeking the latest and newest perspective to make sound decisions. Sound decisions are based on grounded assessments and well thought through speculation.

I find that the adaptive leader is a great at networking as well. That’s how they get and maintain perspective. For example, I don’t hang out with just like-minded people. In my network are people who hold a wide range of political, social, educational, and religious viewpoints. The list could go on, but you get the picture. I know it seems natural to seek out people who agree with us. I like those that don’t agree with me, respectfully, because iron sharpens iron and I may find a blind-spot I didn’t know I had. This doesn’t mean I haven’t established clear ideals and values for myself.

Opinions based on “feelings” are not good sources of information to assert as truth when making decisions. Especially decisions that impact careers and people’s income. This is very difficult because we are emotional beings. Yet many leaders and managers do this consistently and wonder why they fall short of their goals or can’t get people to follow.

Feelings and intuition are not the same. Intuition comes from a knowing that is born from a multiple sourcing of information. All your attention comes slamming together in the moment and you get some “truth”. The experience of knowing something doesn’t always have a linear path.

It has become increasingly important for leaders to have mental models and processes for how they make decisions and overcome obstacles. These could be called standard practices. It is really important for leaders to be eager learners and observant. Why? Because everyday something changes and unless you have some sustainable process for how you make decisions AND learn how to make great decisions–you will not be able to innovate effectively and change as quickly when it is needed in the future.

Because of greater connectedness in the market place with both customers, suppliers, and more direct feedback; we feel the impact of our decisions as leaders more readily. Problems have become even more protractible and less predictable. Breakdowns happen even with the best of maintenance and due diligence. The game is NOT about avoiding problems. Adaptive leadership is about striving toward the goal. Dealing with difficulties is a skill for sure, but your relationship with wanting to embrace problems and deal with them is a mindset.

Opportunities rarely show up as planned on some strategic plan. More likely when we are not prepared. How do you leverage them to quickly and effective keep moving forward toward you goals? It is paramount to gain purchase or leverage on these potential opportunities. If you don’t then reaching defined goals at the right times becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. Next post I’m going to write about “gaining purchase”. How I learned to think intuitively from working side by side with a little German farmer named Bud. He was my Dad, my friend, my mentor, my fishing buddy, and an adaptive leader of his family.


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