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How flexible and adaptable are you?

Ensure your actions convey flexibility and adaptability to change

Leadership Development program – Evelyn Olivares

The Chameleon – Artfully switching gears at will.

There is a well-known Chinese proverb that says that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher. Perhaps at no other time in recent history has adaptability been more important than it is now.

Adaptability – the ability to change (or be changed) to fit new circumstances – is a crucial skill for leaders. It is more than just reacting to the immediate situation. Adaptive leaders anticipate and employ a broad-based style of command. As an adaptive leader, you take risks and make decisions, learn from events, and adjust plans accordingly. You are able to switch from one critical task to another without hesitation. You focus on your primary purpose and handle multiple tasks within organizational strategies.

All great leaders must be flexible and adaptable. Leaders who think they know everything better than anyone else in their organization are likely to fail. The best leaders learn from others, and adapt their plans to changing circumstances. They have the ability to pivot when necessary, but also lead by sticking with core values. Here are three ways that successful leaders succeed by being flexible and adaptable:

  1. Overcoming challenges by learning
  • Every team encounter obstacles whenever they set out to accomplish a goal.
  • Leaders must help their people and their organization succeed by overcoming these challenges.
  • Step back and see what is working and what is not working.
  • You cannot be expected to know how to do everything.
  • Institutionalize learning within their organization by coaching their team to periodically assess how they are doing, especially after a major event.
  • Formally gather your team and discuss what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Set the stage for adapting your approach and making improvements for future success.
  1. Using appropriate leadership styles
  • There are different leadership styles but there is no ONE best leadership style.
  • Leaders must be flexible and adaptable in using a style that fits the situation and their organization.
  • For example, in some instances a democratic style works best when time is not urgent and information can be shared; however in other situations like a crisis, a command style might be more appropriate to make decisions quickly and move out of the danger zone.
  1. Adapting plans to changed circumstances
  • You must be flexible to adapt the plan to changed circumstances.
  • Nothing remains constant, and today change is more rapid and frequent than at almost any time in the past.
  • The best leaders plan for the future and for contingencies; however, they also know that plans must be adapted when the planning assumptions are no longer valid.
  • Although the plans may change, the leader will still try to operate in concert with their core values.
  • Thus, they will make appropriate adjustments and continue to move ahead without compromising their basic beliefs and values.

Situational Awareness

Effective leaders are always in tune to their operating environment. They evaluate the information that is available to them and make adjustments in their approach, style and plans to achieve success, but still remain true to their values. Although leaders need to demonstrate perseverance to achieve their goals, they must also be flexible and adaptable in their approach to accomplish their mission.

Knowing when to stand firm and when to be flexible is the art of leadership.

Elements of Adaptive Leadership

The following elements are fundamentals for adaptive leadership and offer a framework to measure your strengths and identify areas that you might want to develop further:

  • Knowledge of the organization – Adaptive leaders know their organizations as ecosystems bound together by a common purpose, but steeped in difference. They understand that their agencies include stakeholder groups that overlap, but that each group has its own unique characteristics.
  • Assess trends and environmental factors – Adaptive leaders get ahead of change before it happens because they take the long view of all impacts. This approach includes a willingness to consider longer term strategies for change, despite the short political cycle, and an evolutionary rather than a short-term results orientation
  • Breaking-down barriers – Adaptive leaders are not turf oriented. They focus less on championing an organization’s place in the larger enterprise than on championing across the enterprise.
  • Being disruptive – Adaptive leaders privilege outcomes-focused goals and principles above all else, even if they require major changes to organizational norms and sacred cows.
  • Being agile to get to the goal – Adaptive leaders adjust mid-course if new information is revealed or if economic, technological, or social changes occur that require a different approach.
  • Empowering the organization – Adaptive leaders focus on empowering and flattening the organization to deemphasize hierarchy and silos. They engage staff at all organizational levels in collaborative, cross-functional diagnoses of problems and solution identification.
  • Ability to sense and respond – Adaptive leaders hold true to their understanding of other people and themselves. They consider deeper impacts of gains and losses, and perform self-checks, realizing they may have their own barriers to work through to reach desired outcomes.
October 23, 2018

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