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Home » Blog » Adaptive Leadership: An Overview

Work conditions and circumstances are variable. The workload, team members, clients, and available resources are in a perpetual state of flux; therefore, your leadership and management style must be adaptable.

Leadership and management are distinct species. Management is concerned with coping with complexity and managing people and tasks, whereas leadership is concerned with coping with change and ensuring that the team takes collaborative action to achieve common goals.

The most successful leaders are adept at adapting to changing environments and using the appropriate technique in each circumstance. In dynamic settings, poor leaders fail to make the necessary adjustments, resulting in chaos and confusion.

The emerging model of Adaptive Leadership embraces change, experimentation, and innovation. The objective is for organizations to empower individuals to face challenges and adapt to a dynamic environment.

In this blog, we will overview the genesis, the model and practice and the research that supports this theory as its own! 

The Birth of Adaptive Leadership

Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky developed Adaptive Leadership after more than thirty years of research at Harvard University, defining the frontier of leadership training and development.

Both acknowledged that the top-down or hierarchical model of leadership was outmoded and unrealistic, with no one individual able to properly solve every problem.

Indeed, modern corporate leadership is essentially a team sport. Management is required to collaborate with other leaders and employees to navigate change, achieve goals, and emerge victorious at the end.

Adaptive leadership does not rely on conventional problem-solving techniques that prioritise rules, regulations, and protocol. Instead, it employs innovative, people-centric solutions. Although the leadership style has been popular for years, its popularity has increased as organisations face the ongoing problems of navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

The Adaptive Leadership Model

Adaptive leadership is defined by a framework of three key components:

Precious or expendable –When change occurs, it is normal for firms to examine if some parts are still beneficial. That is, which components merit preservation and which do not? The growth of an organisation is contingent on its leaders moving on from the past and creating new economic prospects or methods of operation.

Experimentation and smart risks – Additionally, adaptable leaders recognise that growth is afflicted by obstacles. However, they build and test concepts and then get insight from any errors. 

Disciplined assessment – Having identified new development opportunities, adaptable leaders adopt and assess the impact of new systems or procedures. They actively interact with affected teams and make required adjustments.

The Five Adaptive Leadership Principles

Like all leadership styles, there are no predetermined qualities an adaptive leader must display.

In no particular order, here are some that may be useful:

Organizational justice – otherwise known as fairness. Adaptive leaders must be transparent, trustworthy, and willing to engage in challenging conversations. To ensure change is accepted by subordinates, they must also explain facts truthfully.

Character–Additionally, adaptable leaders must be able to acquire the respect of people they lead. Transparency is crucial here. They must not be scared of making or admitting mistakes, or of abandoning a project that is failing. Additionally, they value the variety of perspectives within the firm.

Emotional intelligence – The capacity of a leader to recognise the feelings or emotions of others while maintaining control over their own emotions. Emotionally intelligent leaders respond with empathy to the worries of others because they separate the individual from the issue they are facing. 

Development – Leaders that are adaptable welcome ongoing growth and learning and are not hesitant to explore new problem-solving techniques. The most adaptable leaders also instil comparable creative and innovation principles in their employees.

Win-win problem solving –Adaptive leaders view dispute resolution as a chance to reach a mutually advantageous outcome. For instance, a company may benefit from merging with a rival rather than investing enormous sums of money to defeat it.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Due to its emphasis on overcoming obstacles to reach success, adaptive leadership may have a significant impact on a business.. An aspiring corporate leader who faces the task of setting ambitious goals and motivating team members to achieve them is an illustration of this problem-solution dichotomy. The potential for enormous rewards for the organisation and its people would inspire an adaptable leader to accept this challenge. Even if there are failures along the way, the leader is unfazed and will continue to propel the organisation toward its objective.

Adaptive leadership is applicable to a variety of professions, including healthcare administration. 

Adaptive Leadership Action Steps

When you begin adhering to adaptive leadership principles and essential behaviours, your leadership will gain fresh focus and vigour. Here are three action steps for adaptable leadership to get you started:

  1. Create a list of tasks that can be delegated and encourage leadership in others. Do not worry about being left without a function. In actuality, you will increase your own significance and influence by fostering younger leadership qualities. What steps can you take today to begin? Examples include the decision to transfer particular, focused responsibilities for a significant project to a younger leader. If you’ve attempted this in the past with limited success, ensure that the outcome and objectives are clear, that the junior leader has mapped milestones, that the milestones are on a dashboard with weekly reporting and discussions, and that you are there to provide support and encouragement.
  2. How can team members be engaged to produce solutions for growth and success? If it takes a village to raise a child, then it requires the entire team to overcome certain obstacles. How can you involve people in your creative process? When your company or division is in difficulty, it is too late to become a flexible leader and include the team. This is comparable to the fact that training for a marathon the day before the event is insufficient. Practice adaptive leadership to build your team’s strength and stamina today – what we refer to as discipline and rhythm – so that your team has a greater chance of succeeding when action is urgently required.
  3. Reconsider the manner in which you and your team adhere to processes and maintain relationships. Which responsibilities could be revisited? What processes are no longer employed? How about your company’s legacy relationships? Be uncompromising in your analysis. Now is the moment to examine how you and your organisation accomplish tasks and with whom.

Adaptive Leadership: Leadership Theory or Theoretical Derivative

A recent study titled “Adaptive Leadership: Leadership Theory or TheoreticalDerivative” analysed, synthesised, and evaluated the legitimacy of adaptive leadership as a leadership theory, and provided conclusive results determining whether adaptive leadership is a leadership theory or merely a theoretical derivative of other leadership theories such as situational, transactional, transformational, contingency, or complexity theories.

The theory was exhaustively researched on the subject of adaptive leadership focusing on three categories of study. The three categories were: 

Category 1 (Academic, Theoretician, Experts on Leadership)

Category 2(Business/Consultant Leadership Experts), and 

Category 3 (Military Service Components and Leadership Experts)

According on the findings of the preceding study, adaptive leadership is currently an acceptable leadership strategy that is seen by some as an emerging leadership theory. Results also reveal that adaptive leadership is widely acknowledged as an offshoot of other leadership theories, such as situational, transformational, and complexity leadership theories, which are required attributes or skills for contemporary leaders.

Additional research by Drs. Glover, Jones, and Friedman (2002) in “Adaptive Leadership: When Change Is Not Enough” developed a framework that they refer to as the “Adaptive Leadership Theory.”

This framework gives a description of the relationships between leaders and the contexts in which they operate, as well as a concise explanation of adaptive leadership theory that describes adaptive leaders. This paradigm supports Bass (1990), Hawkins (2004), and Schriver’s concepts of leadership theory and theory.

According to the result of this research, this category of respondents believes that adaptive leadership is a modern leadership style that has the potential to become a leadership theory in the future. This suggests that, based on the sampling completed in this category, a substantial amount of research and study must be conducted for this category to fully embrace adaptive leadership as a leadership theory and as a grounded theory.

Adaptive leadership is commonly regarded as an offshoot of various leadership theories, such as situational, transformational, and complexity leadership theories, which are essential attributes or competencies for contemporary leaders.

Adaptive leadership is evolving from situational, transformational, and complexity theories, as outlined by Nastanski, and is being developed by leadership theorists like Heifetz, Yukl, and Bennis, who are pioneering adaptive leadership techniques in the practicalities of today’s modern workplace.

These studies examine the experiences of leaders in challenging circumstances, such as leading in extremely complicated and hostile environments against asymmetrical and adaptable adversaries.

Today’s public and private industry leaders are called into question with challenges that necessitate leadership that is capable of addressing and resolving complex contemporary problems and concerns through collective, collaborative, timely, and inventive solutions. Adaptive leadership is a way by which leaders can effectively meet the demanding requirements imposed on them in order to achieve success in endeavours requiring highly effective leadership.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Adaptive Leadership?

Adaptive Leadership is a leadership model that emphasizes the ability of leaders to adapt to changing circumstances and work collaboratively with their team to achieve common goals. It was developed by Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky and is characterized by three key components: preserving or expendable components, experimentation and smart risks, and disciplined assessment.

What are the Five Adaptive Leadership Principles?

There are no specific qualities that an adaptive leader must display, but some principles that may be useful include organizational justice, character, emotional intelligence, development, and win-win problem solving.

What is the Practice of Adaptive Leadership?

Adaptive leadership is problem-solution oriented and aims to overcome obstacles to reach success. It can be applied in a variety of professions, including healthcare administration, and has the potential to have a significant impact on a business.

What are the Adaptive Leadership Action Steps?

Three action steps for practicing adaptive leadership include delegating tasks, engaging team members in problem-solving, and encouraging growth and learning.

How does Adaptive Leadership differ from conventional leadership styles?

Adaptive Leadership differs from conventional top-down or hierarchical leadership styles as it does not rely on traditional problem-solving techniques and prioritizes innovative, people-centric solutions. It recognizes that successful leadership is a team sport and that leaders must collaborate with others to navigate change and achieve goals.