Adaptive Leadership: A leader all the time or A Leader for all times

I think there is a lot of value in establishing our signature presence as a leader. Presence is defined in this post as how people experience you over time and in the moments of challenge when it really counts. Just like your handwritten signature is recognized as belonging to you, so is your presence amongst others because it is consistently the same. Much like how you write out your signature without thinking. It becomes natural and a signature, a real good one, can’t be faked easily.

People want to follow leaders that seem to naturally know what they want. The person they follow creates the assessment and experience that is signature to them specifically. This dependability and consistent approach is needed especially in those times that contain uncertainty. We live in very uncertain times. Indeed we may be just on the cusp of a whole new chapter that offers less and less certainty and more reason to be adaptable and adaptive in your work and life. The following quote resonates deeply with the concept of presence because I have been around leaders that “get it” and more then a few that just “don’t”.

Nothing serves an organization better—especially during times of agonizing doubts and uncertainties—than leadership that knows what it wants, communicates those intentions, positions itself correctly, and empowers its workforce. – Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for taking charge

In order to have a presence and be an adaptive leader you need to take charge and accept responsibility when it matters most. It is essential to be consistent and reliable in that you know what you want and who you intend to be.  This is adaptive work because you nave to understand what is required of you as a leader or know clearly that you are not positioned correctly to affect outcomes or make “it” happen. Whatever “it” is you adjust accordingly. It may not seem, at first blush that consistency is an adaptive characteristic, but let me explain it in the context of how people assess us as a leader and as a human being.

How you show up consistently is important. Showing up simply means your signature presence is aligned with your values and character. You consistently engage from your intentions and commitment. And you are attentive to what is going on in and around your people. This is highly sensory work that engages not just your head, but your body and your human spirit. King Solomon in the book of Proverbs said that it is the spirit of person that gives God a window to their soul. Show up in your spirit and be a leader to those that need you by making yourself available.

Let me try and articulate something that is quite a nuance in this whole conversation. Leaders often show up DURING times of doubt and uncertainty. More often than not people will find themselves in a “tight spot” without expecting it. You never know just how you or someone is going to respond until a unique situation evolves. You look around and soon get that “still small voice” that says….You Are It! Yep, for whatever reason this moment and this time was made for you. Not the converse…that you were made for the moment. You try to process it, but no logic tells you why you are to stand in the gap. right now at this time. You have had no time to prepare.

This is a concept that we are not necessarily a leader all the time or a leader for all times. Sure I could be all philosophical and say we all are leaders, which in many ways is true as North. However, we all realize that we just aren’t the one to be “carrying the water” sometimes. It’s not our fire to put out and we need to man the pumps and do the grunt work. I think this really comes down to knowing your niche and always be ready for opportunities as they arrive or arise that meet your skills and experience. Great teams are filled with these leaders and individuals that know their role and when to step in and when to step out…of the way.

This concept of adaptive leadership is really a two sided coin. When you know your signature presence clearly you will recognize those moments that are beckoning you to engage. Sometimes we downplay our efforts and play small. We just don’t step up and then kick ourselves later for not acting on our intuition or notion. The truth is we measure success in immediate volume way to often. We get quantity mixed up with impact. Do you know that if you only help one person you have made the investment of (and in) a lifetime. That one person can go on to impact so many others in their life because you spoke into them something they needed..right then.

Your task as an adaptive leader is to continuously work diligently at knowing what you want, communicating what you are committed to doing, and being that person for yourself and others consistently. Be relevant for the situation at hand, and then empower others. Empowering others means getting the heck out of their way and get behind them to guide, support, and coach them forward. After all, it may be their time to lead and your time to follow.

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  1. #1 by Wayne Weiland on 12/12/2011 - 8:04 am

    Mark,
    I really like this article – created both deep thoughts and questions for me.

    The concept of creating a “presence” by being predictable with your actions is real and allows leaders to stand out, when appropriate and needed. However, I speculate there may be more to it than just repeated appropriate and timely action. Why is it that someone rizes out of the group to become the leader when there is a short-term crisis. Say a plane crash lands and 30 people survive. Invariably, someone will rise out of that group and become the leader. The rest of the group has no history with them and they can’t be assessed or judged by history or repeated actions, it’s just the here and now. Yet they rise to the occation. How much does their emotional intelligence drive the outcome? Certainly a person with high emotional intelligence will better recognized the needs of both individuals and the group as a whole (social) AND be able to calmly react in the appropriate way. Is this what we’d recognize as “a natural leader”?

    I realize may past experiences will have them ready to “be a leader for all times”. I’m just wondering if some innate and/or learned emotional intelligence may also plan a key role????
    Wayne

    • #2 by heartwoodgroup on 12/13/2011 - 7:50 am

      Wayne your questions are good ones because I have wondered the same thing, hence this post captured some of that thinking. I think there really is no “one” answer and it could be a combination of all. I know that many folks are oriented to leading, but can stand in the background by choice to let others step forward and learn/grow their leading presence. If there is a gap they have the emotional intelligence and awareness to step in and act. However, in those times that an unsuspected leader arises I think there may be a couple of things happening. The first is…when crisis happens there is sometimes only action and “no thinking”. Someone who may normally interfere with their being in the game, just gets thrust in it and before they know it they are acting. The natural is allowed to take place because they got put in a situation where their “thinker” couldn’t stop them. The other is spiritual. The sense that I am to be doing this or saying that and having no “logical” reason, yet knowing it to be truth for you in the moment. Great questions!!!

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