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Be the type of leader that's ready for what's coming next.

This pandemic will end. None of us know for sure when that will be. But with vaccines on the rise, cases on the decline, and the general atmosphere, we know that the "new normal" is close on the horizon. We've spent the last year jumping through hoops, trying to adjust to whatever arbitrary standard management threw at us. Now, we need to be ready.

So what does that mean for you, your team(s), and the organization?

It means you need to make yourself ready. Ready to get yourself back into high gear. Ready to lead people to be better than they were a year ago. Ready to make the transition to whatever comes next a smooth one. Will everyone back in the office or virtual? Will the company use a hybrid model? How will we deliver the product or service now? Who knows. That's why you need to become an adaptive leader!


Adaptive leadership is exactly what it sounds like. Leaders encourage and help their followers to face and deal with problems, challenges, and changes in an uncertain environment. (Sound familiar?!) This particular approach to leadership focuses on the work of the followers in the context of where they are at. In other words, adaptive leadership is people-focused. It trusts that people are competent and can get things done, they just need the leader to help identify and remove the roadblocks.


Before, managers were task-oriented, trying to figure out how to "get stuff done." But now, adaptive leaders mobilize, motivate, organize, orient, and focus the efforts of their people. And the way that they do it is fairly straightforward. Here's how:


  1. Go to the proverbial 'balcony'. Step out of the fray and get a higher-level perspective on what's going on. Imagine you were watching the orchestra. Look at all the sections such as woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion (customer deliver, internal/external operations, sales & marketing, and HR), the audience (customers, prospects, and potential employees), and the conductor (division/department heads). Step away and identify the goal/objective, the underlying value, any power conflicts or other dysfunctions. Be the observer and participant.

  2. Identify the challenge. Stayin at a high level, frame the actual challenge as something that is technical (IT, infrastructure, policy, etc.) or adaptive (not clear-cut or easy to spot). Technical challenges require expertise: yours or someone else's. Adaptive challenges are value-laden and require finesse.

  3. Regulate distress. There are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. The former is good (the kind your muscles experience when exercising) and the later is bad (what we've been living with for the past year). The challenge for leaders is to find ways to reduce distress by providing consistency and security. The adaptive leaders does this and keeps people productive by (i) creating an atmosphere of safety (allowing people to tackle the problem in bite-size pieces), (ii) manage uncertainty by giving purpose, direction, and motivation, and (iii) regulate personal distress (exercise, meditate/think, be alone with your thoughts).

  4. Maintain disciplined attention. Leaders encourage others to focus on the tough, but important, work. We don't shirk or shy away from what's "hard". But we do make sure that we give them space, help them grow, and remove the unimportant.

  5. Give the work back to the people. "Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the supper." It can be easy to step-in and "take control" when things seem out of sync. But be careful not to become a micro-manager or make people dependent on you. People want help, but they also want to be heard. Shift the problem-solving back to the people and give them the tools and confidence to grow.

  6. Protect leadership voices from below. This means putting low-status or marginalized individuals on equal footing with other members of the group. Before making a decision, think SLLS: Stop, Look, Listen, Sense. Are you open to ideas or just trying to minimize dissent? This is hard for people because we don't like to be challenged.

Now that you have the formula, you can use the Adaptive Leadership approach. This will position you, your team, and the organization to be way ahead of everyone else when we finally get to the "new normal". And after that, you may actually start to enjoy work again!

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