The number of transitions we go through in our personal and professional lives is accelerating exponentially. The skill/attribute of managing and leading individuals or systems through transition is adaptive work. It is intuitively about perspective and knowledge. The problem on the knowledge side is that information (what there is to know) is growing exponentially. We have great tools and search engines that allow us to acquire information, but it may be lacking validation or incomplete at best. This ability to “know” is growing increasingly more difficult. Which seems counter intuitive with all the technology we have available.
Adaptive leaders are learners at their core. As a leader they focus on what they “need” to know. They fundamentally understand they can’t know it all. Staying anchored in your core values as a leader is essential. Core values are something we can know and discern with the help of others. It is vital to spend contemplative time thinking about what is important now “at this time in my life or this stage of the business”. The word “adaptive” in this context would imply changing in some way that allows you to survive and thrive based on what you value most at this time in your life.
There is a common story amongst many leaders that change is difficult. This is not the case in reality. In fact, we humans are pretty good at adapting and changing as needed. When we value something and we want it badly we are pretty good at doing what it takes to obtain it. However, if we perceive that change is uncomfortable we will try to make our environment (and people around us) adapt to OUR reality. It is a our perspective about security that interferes with our natural skills of adaptation. If we see life and work as fluid and full of possibilities we tend to make necessary adjustments with energy and willingness.
Let’s look at the basics of acquiring perspective. You need to involve others in your discovery. We can narrow our search down by first understanding situational aspects. This core skill involves strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is not the same thing as planning. Thinking strategically involves gaining perspective through a disciplined approach to situational moments in time. Then once you gain perspective you can make a better decisions about a plan.
Core questions are:
- What is really going on here?
- What does it mean?
- What could or should we do about it?
Pretty simple questions that will generate a ton of conversation. Is this just a blip or trend? How significant is it? What are the possible actions or solutions?
The most important thing is who you involve in these questions. Adaptive leadership always involves interaction and engagement with others in meaningful conversation. Surround yourself with good thinkers and invest in relationships. Look for situational mentors and coaches to help guide you through paradigm shifts. Also, look for those things and people that you should pay close attention to as leading indicators. You need to be on the offensive and yet still ask where are the “land mines” in the path to success that could derail or destroy your success.
Fundamental principles, values, and those common structural concepts of leadership hold true in all situations. For example, skill of listening, practicing straight talk and constructive feedback add effectiveness to adaptive leaders getting the information they need. Remember too, it is the situation that builds the experience which adults draw upon so heavily to make decisions. Over time confidence and comfort in not having all the answers grows and opens up a whole new level of possibilities for discovery of critical insights.
You need to learn faster than you ever have and you need to unlearn faster. A core skill of an adaptive leader is to be proactive. Not being stagnant or static…developing an understanding of transitions in a way that you can begin the new acquisition of skills and knowledge prior to when you will need them. Leading in today’s environment of ever increasing transition in work and personal life…you need to adopt new perspectives and knowledge faster. Letting go of old ways of thinking and doing things intentionally when necessary is a learned behavior. Doing both faster than the competition is the competitive edge in this next chapter of leadership.