Last week, my colleague Jessica May wrote about the key capabilities needed to successfully lead in the new normal. This week, I’m focusing on one of the most critical capabilities she identified: adaptability.
It’s certainly not a new concept that organisations and their leaders need to be able to adapt to constant change. With disruptions from advancements in the technology and digital space, changes in cultural, market and consumer trends, and concern for non-commercial business outcomes (e.g. environmental and sustainability, social responsibility, etc. [A]), leaders have needed to drive organisations to innovate and anticipate the ever-changing landscape. However, Covid-19 has challenged the survival of every organisation and forced many to rip up and reconsider their business strategy. In 2019, adaptability was named the most desirable skill [B]. But in order to lead their people and organisations effectively, now and in the future, adaptability in leaders is not desirable; it’s vital.
What makes an adaptable leader?
An adaptive leader is defined as someone who is able to change their behaviour in response to changes in a situation [C]. They are flexible, showing resilience when things don’t go as planned and bouncing back from failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn. While they might use past knowledge and experience to approach a problem, they are open in acknowledging that what has worked before may not work in the future.
Adaptability is a critical capability for any employee, but particularly for those who are leading others and an organisation through ever-changing contexts. We see first-hand from our clients and their leaders the need to adapt to the changing context within their role, but also when moving from one leadership role to another, with a need for leaders to adapt their influencing skills and become more strategic and empowering.
[A]Burke, R. J., & Cooper, C. L. (2004). Leading in turbulent times: Managing in the new world of work. Malden,
MA: Blackwell Publishing.
[C] Yukl, G., & Mahsud, R. (2010). Why flexible and adaptive leadership is essential. Consulting Psychology Journal: practice and research, 62(2), 81.
[D] Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology, 2(2), 175-220.
[E] Boylan, S. A., & Turner, K. A. (2017). Developing organizational adaptability for complex environment. Journal of Leadership Education, 16(2), 183-198.