As the name suggests, the adaptive leadership model is a type of leadership that helps businesses adapt to the constantly changing business environment, and ultimately thrive in it. This model was developed by Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz, both from Harvard Business School, and it supports leaders who want to understand the magnitude of the challenge before them, and avoid relying on the status quo. Instead, they rely on change, and on being able to identify what’s essential and what’s expendable. Today, we’re going to go through the main characteristics of this leadership model, and see what you can learn from it.
The Adaptive Leadership Model: Concepts to Keep in Mind
1. Identifying the Challenge
As we’ve already mentioned, one of the core strategies of this leadership model is identifying the kind of challenge the team is facing. There are two main types of challenges: technical and adaptive. Fortunately, most of them are technical. Technical challenges are easier to understand, they often have a straightforward diagnosis, and they’re quite predictable. On the other hand, adaptive challenges are those which are less clear. Moreover, you can’t come up with a solution to them that easily. As a result, they require a collective effort, and they may prolong indefinitely.
2. Differentiating Between Leadership and Authority
Another extremely important characteristic of the adaptive leadership model is that it clearly differentiates between the terms leadership and authority. According to this model, leadership entails mobilizing people to deal with adaptive challenges. It’s something that people exercise, not something they have (like authority). Leadership disrupts the status quo and aims for progress. On the other hand, authority is either an informal of a formal power, and it usually comes with a title, such as that of manager or coach. Authority provides order, direction, and protection, and it mostly focuses on solving technological problems.
3. Avoiding Work
As strange as it may sound, a relevant aspect of the adaptive leadership model is its belief that avoiding work is actually the first sign that the system is beginning to move. Scared of challenging the status quo, people will come up with strategies to avoid work, whether consciously or unconsciously. Some strategies would be denying that there is a problem, blaming it on someone else, attacking the person who is responsible for the challenge, and so on. These strategies are used to distract people and restore the usual work atmosphere. However, they’re actually helping people exercise leadership.
4. Keeping the Team Together
When there’s an adaptive challenge to take care of, the team tends to divide and look for a way out. A leader should be able to create a holding environment. This is an environment that manages to keep people together, even though there are divisive forces at work. There are several aspects that characterize a holding environment, such as norms, rules, procedures, shared values, common goals, and the role authority holds.
If you’ve ever thought of applying the adaptive leadership model to your team, we hope the characteristics and concepts above have convinced you of its effectiveness.
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