What is adaptive leadership?

Updated: Oct 27


One of the most essential aspects of our work in helping organisations become more innovative and impactful, is ensuring that leaders have the skills and knowledge necessary to nurture creativity and lead innovation within their teams.


Adaptability is essential and, it's one of those things that's a little tough for some leaders since most leadership books advocate a certain approach. They say, "Don't be a manager, don't be this type of leader, be this type of leader, be a collaborator, etc." There's nothing wrong with that, but leadership is situational and this needs to be supported in an organisation because if we just follow rules and follow one style, it's not always going to work.


If you have an adaptive leadership style, you can question yourself, or your leaders, and think "what do I need to do here? What's going to bring the best out of this individual? What's going to be the greatest method to deal with this situation?" When all you have is a hammer, everything appears to be a nail, and if you only have one leadership style, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s the right one. People need different things from their leaders at different times.

Why is adaptive leadership important?


The world is evolving at a faster rate than it has ever been. We all know that the pace of change and the expectations from our clients is increasing. The best way to navigate these transitions is to be flexible. You need to be able to be adaptable so that you can change your approach to meet the needs of the scenario that you're faced with.


It provides a safe environment for your employees to innovate. We're just not following the rules, and we're not telling people to just perform their jobs; instead, we're telling them that we need to do something different. Or, that you'd like them to give you some suggestions for what we can do better to solve this problem, rather than managing the status quo.


When we're talking about adaptable leadership, it's also important to identify what that means. It's really just a way of expressing that you can be a leader in a variety of ways at any given time and what we want you to do is adjust your leadership approach to fit the situation.


What are the benefits of having adaptive leaders?


In recent years, organisations with adaptive leaders have performed significantly better in areas such as working from home. Adaptive leaders are those who change the way they interact with their employees while maintaining a meaningful relationship with them.


Non-adaptive leaders, on the other hand, are seeking ways to install the technology on their employees' computers that can track keystrokes to see if they're operating properly, as an example.


People who work with adaptable leaders are discovering fresh and innovative ways to thrive. Adaptive leadership is essential in organisations so that we can adjust to whatever is thrown at us which means you'll have a better chance of surviving well into the future no matter what that brings.


As a result, you achieve superior results in your work because you will be able to respond to your clients changing needs as well.


When it comes to adaptive leadership, one of the most helpful things to remember is that its ok to be vulnerable. An adaptive leader recognizes that they do not always need to know the answer and is able to work with their people to discover it together. They know that they don't have to know all of the answers all of the time.


How do you get started?


Education has the potential to make a significant difference. People are only aware of what they are aware of, and they are unaware of what they are unaware of. Raising their knowledge of their current leadership style, as well as the various styles accessible to them, is a terrific place to start. If you only give your team a hammer, they're only going to use a hammer, right? Giving them a few more tools in their toolbox and talking to them about when to use them can help to establish a culture around adaptive leadership and the best approach to use in different situations.


Understanding your existing leadership capability by conducting some form of employee survey will allow for your organisation as a whole, to see their opportunities and strengths.


Another way is to be reflective when you're the leader of an organisation and feel obligated to constantly supply the solution. Instead of providing all the answers in your leadership meetings, sit back and ask yourself, “how often am I role-modeling the adaptive leadership I want to see?”


In summary make sure you have a really good toolkit for your people, give them access to training that shows them the different styles they can use, and challenge your leaders on what tools they should be using in different scenarios to get the best out of their people and solve problems in the most effective way possible.


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