Managers are often promoted into the position, not because they are good managers, but because they are good in their job. Our approach of 4 Pillars of Authentic Leadership is an attempt to support managers to make more sense in their role as managers or leaders. In the past, we already described the foundations to Vulnerability, Empathy and Integrity. So, let’s dig deeper into Adaptability.
Adaptive leadership is the capability of a leader to change the behavior as the situation around them changes. Often, we interchange “adaptive” with words such as “flexible”, “adaptable”, “agile” or “versatile”.
Regardless of the words we use, they all aim to describe leaders who are capable of understanding a particular situation and modifying their behavior accordingly (Kaiser et al., 2007; Pulakos et al., 2000, Wong and Chan, 2018). Joe Almeida, former CEO of Covidien, used the metaphor of being able to look around the corner.
Whereas adaptability is something we do and can learn how to do, resilience is rather a status we might be in. It describes the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. One very prominent example of such a difficulty is Corona and its consequences. A resilient organization, for example, could be identified as one, which easily can recover from the corona pandemic.
The goal of a leader should not necessarily be to be adaptable, but rather to become resilient. Being adaptable will help to become more resilient.
Traditionally, we looked at leadership as a trait: The concept of a “born leader”. You either are a leader or you are not. This becomes apparent, when we expect certain behavior from one or more of our leaders, and they just do not deliver on that promise. They are just not cut out for it.
Linsky & Lawrence (2011) found out, that this picture of leadership is outdated at least: According to them, the concept of leadership revolves around understanding, behaviors and actions. It can be learned, and is not an innate trait.
Secondly, following their research, “an organization’s ability to adapt rests on it possessing widespread leadership”. It is not only a result of the actions of those at the top, but it is a group effort of leadership within the system as a whole. Adaptive Leaders understand, that the success of the organization is an effort of all and not only one person.
Last, but not least, they also argue, that there is an inherent danger and difficulty to leading through change. We often see that change can lead to resistance within an organization. As a consequence, adaptability relies on understanding adaptive pressures and dynamics, and then applying those insights to greater success in leading through the change.
To summarize, there are three factors for adaptability in leadership:
If we are combing these three factors with adaptability helping us in achieving resilience, then it is visible, that adaptive leadership is key for our organization to become resilient – being able to recover quickly from difficulties and tough times.
The biggest challenge towards our adaptability are cognitive biases. In short, a cognitive bias limits us to take an objective view because our brain perceives information through a filter of personal experience and preferences. We act on what we know and see, and believe information which fits to our world view.
We are constantly victims to our cognitive biases because it helps us to understand complex relationships. It makes the complexity of the world feasible.
Web platforms use cognitive bias to increase their conversion rate. If you ever booked your hotel on booking.com, cognitive biases are constantly surrounding you. Notifications and alerts such as “Don’t miss out on this deal”, “only 3 rooms left”, “are you still booking the hotel”, etc. are constantly trying to activate our sense-making mechanism to buy as fast as possible through FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) or Scarcity biases.
Being aware that our immediate reaction to a situation might be a response of our cognitive bias, is the first step to become more adaptive. It may help you to go through the aforementioned 52 cards and ask yourself, honestly, which biases do you identify for yourself every day. I for myself identified 10 immediately.
As a next step, we need to understand, that we might have assumptions, which are the foundations to this bias. List out those assumptions and try to see, how you can change those assumptions into new assumptions. For example, if you are constantly afraid of missing out (FOMO), you might want to ask yourself:
The responses to those or similar questions will be the assumptions, not truths, towards the biases (Our first three pillars of being vulnerable, empathetic and showing integrity will help you to become better in identifying the bias as well as listing the assumptions leading to the bias).
Finally, for the next 1-2 weeks, identify and list new assumptions, which may help you to overcome the biases and leading assumptions. Make an experiment to help you to achieve new assumptions and reflect within those 1-2 weeks, if your bias becomes less impactful on you.
You likely will have new assumptions. Analyze them as they might still lead to a bias. Then run a new experiment.
Do you want to learn on how to make experiments and overcome biases to become more adaptive? Join our regular trainings on our 4 Pillars, in which we build all 4 pillars continuously and reciprocally.
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