“Never underestimate change. What seems simple at the top is magnified at lower echelons and is extremely disruptive. It is a festering crisis that needs attention from senior management or else loyalty, efficiency, and productivity will suffer.” – Wheeler L. Baker
The quote above is true; what seems like a simple challenge, a straight-forward change, a moderate disruption is likely to produce significant difficulty down range in the enterprise. Effective adaptive leaders realize this and will move to address the downrange implications of the disruption proactively.
True leadership is first of all about people. When most managers would focus on “solving the problem,” the adaptive leader will empower the team to leverage the problem into growth and energy. All the while the adaptive leader is working to maintain the health of the individual members of the team.
How does an effective adaptive leader do this work? Following are strategies for adaptive responses to the team and the enterprise during an adaptive challenge.
- Adaptive leaders, to be effective leaders in an adaptive challenge, reinforce the team message – they speak and act in ways that promote the team identity and healthy team self-esteem, knowing that if the team unravels the ability to meet the adaptive challenge is significantly diminished.
- Adaptive leaders work to minimize status differences in the enterprise – they lead in this by their example as they join in even the most menial tasks, encourage a flat hierarchy, hold their managers accountable for the same behaviors, and insist on courtesy and respect for all.
- Adaptive leaders encourage their team members to do what is necessary to stay healthy and stable at all times, for the enterprise is no more than its members.
- Adaptive leaders manage and leverage conflict in a proactive manner – rather than hoping conflict will resolve on its own, they deal with anger early in the process, proactively, and in small doses; they engage disruptors, dissidents, and zero-gravity thinkers while avoiding needless power struggles.
- Adaptive leaders know the importance of reducing tension and pressure to improve morale and engagement -the lighten up the situation when they can and celebrate and encourage laughter with team members and in their own lives.
- Adaptive leaders listen to the team members, engage them in meaningful conversations, and as much as possible adjust the work conditions for maximum health and well-being for the team.
- Adaptive leaders know their influence for good in tough times – in all time – hinges on their demonstrations of values and commitment – they lead not by directive but by personal example in substantive ways.
During an adaptive challenge, the leader must be a visible, engaged leader. This is critical if a positive example and influence is to be a result of the leadership. Such leadership is taxing upon the leader. Maintaining the leadership presence for the long haul is both an important and a difficult work.