Adaptive Leadership Theory: Adaptive Leadership Framework

By Barry Pruitt

dateMon, Jul 27, 2020 @ 12:00 PM

As leadership guru Jim Collins tells us, organizations go from good to great when personalities step aside and let purpose become the focus. Essentially, great organizations are purpose-driven versus leader-driven.

So how can you be an adaptive leader in your organization, and still stay purpose driven? First you must understand these adaptive points:Why are adaptive leaders so effective?

  • Adaptive leaders create change incrementally.
  • Learning can be painful, so you should anticipate and counteract reluctance.
  • You must continuously connect change to the core values of the organization.

So what can you do to embrace adaptive leadership?

Give key responsibilities to junior leaders. Look for key people that rest right at the edge of their ability level and experience set. Your role is to take one thing off your own plate, and instead accomplish the same task by coaching a junior leader through it. This may sound like it takes more energy than doing it yourself, but as you get more comfortable with the process, you’ll realize that you accomplish three goals: 1) you become better at explaining and delegating, 2) you still get the job completed, and 3) you foster new leadership in the organization.

Consistently assess processes and relationships that are not core value aligned. When you discover anything that is not in alignment with core values, you must eliminate it immediately. Consider this an organizational “don’t do” list. Are there processes that aren’t working anymore? Employees or team members that make you wish you weren’t a boss? Imagine how your focus could shift when these items, relationships or perceived priorities drop off your list.

Adaptive Leadership Action Steps

When you start following adaptive leadership truths and key behaviors, you’ll find a new focus and energy in your leadership. Here are three adaptive leadership action steps to get you started:

1. Make a list of what you can delegate, and foster leadership in others. Don't be concerned about being left without a role. In reality, you will elevate your own importance and influence by fostering the skills of junior leadership. What can you do today to get started? Examples may include the decision to delegate specific and targeted duties on an important project and give it to a junior leader in your organization. If you’ve tried this before with little success, remember to verify that outcome and expectations are clear, that the junior leader has milestones mapped, that the milestones are on a dashboard with weekly reporting and discussions, and that you are available for support and encouragement.

2. Brainstorm how you can enlist team members to generate solutions for growth and success. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes your whole team to solve some challenges. How can you include others in your idea-generation? It’s too late to become adaptive as a leader and include the team when your company or division is in trouble. This is much like it’s too late to train for a marathon the day before the event. Practice adaptive leadership to build your team strength and endurance now – what we call a discipline and rhythm, so that your team has a higher chance of success when there is desperate need for action.

3. Reconsider the way you and your team have been following processes and maintaining relationships. Which tasks could be reconsidered? What processes are outdated or obsolete? How about the legacy relationships your company has? Be ruthless in your analysis. Now is the time to reconsider how you and your company get things done and with whom you do it.

Use Your New Adaptive Leadership Skills to Help Others Handle Change

Practicing the three steps above will prepare you and your team to tackle organizational problems whenever they may occur. Adaptive leaders are able to lead their teams through the toughest of situations, including a substantial loss of business, layoffs, failure to recruit key staff, a strike or other form of industrial action, failure to clearly communicate priorities and quarterly effort, lack of co-operation between work groups, serious cash-flow problems, and more.

Encourage trust and openness by being open and trustworthy, understand the adaptive points, follow the two ways to embrace adaptive leadership, and then follow the three action steps. Taking these actions will develop a personal rhythm of adaptive leadership.

Here’s to developing your Adaptive Leadership Rhythm! Barry


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