If you don’t think you need to be adaptable in how you lead, you must read this. As we think about adaptability in leadership, we need to first understand its importance -- why do we need to adapt? If you are ensuring your intent and desired outcome are known and understood and trust in the people on your team, you will not only grow into a more adaptive leader, you will build an adaptive team. Now, if you’re an aspiring leader, ensure that you understand your boss’ intent and the outcome she/he has set. When we make decisions and work through planning in a collaborative way, we set ourselves up for success when we have to pivot -- which we know is going to happen. Let the team get to the solution. Don’t be insubordinate, but challenge your boss from the perspective of trying to find the best solution to achieve the outcome they have clearly identified. If you’re looking for an example of a team that must be adaptable, I can’t find a better example. Ask questions that lead your team to solutions. Work towards being an adaptable subordinate, have resilience, and, at some point, lead your team as an adaptive leader.
When I was asked to write on this topic, adaptable leadership, I started shaking my head. I am not a huge fan of putting an adjective in front of leadership and making it a new thing. Let’s just call it leadership and then talk about how to be better at it, one day at a time.
If you are a leader and you don’t have the capacity to shift, change, or pivot from a plan or a position, frankly, I don’t know how long you’ll last in your role.
So, if you are an aspiring leader, this article is for you.
If you see yourself as a student of leadership, this article is for you.
If you don’t think you need to be adaptable in how you lead, you must read this.
At the heart of leadership is an inherent need to react to changes in your environment.
As we think about adaptability in leadership, we need to first understand its importance — why do we need to adapt?
Then, we need to look at some techniques that allow us to transform ourselves into leaders who can actually adapt.
Think about the situations you face everyday. Did everything go according to plan?
If you’re like me, the answer is: Of course not.
Business and the world in general is an incredibly complex system with so many different factors that affect on another. If we think it is possible to succinctly plan our day or lead our teams in the exact same way, I direct you to Mike Tyson:
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”
All of those unforeseen things that occur in your day are like being punched in the mouth. So, how do we deal with this?
As former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said:
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
If we can train ourselves to understand that plans will always change, but continue to work through planning exercises — for work we are doing and in terms of growth as leaders — we are ready to get punched in the mouth.
Here are some thoughts on how you can begin the effort of planning to allow you to be a more adaptable leader — or a leader who understands that one plus one doesn’t always equal two.
How to Be a More Adaptable Leader
Be Intent-Based and Outcome-Focused
When I was commissioned in the Army in the early 2000s, the Army’s leadership/command philosophy was Command and Control. It was very hands-on and directive, not very adaptive or flexible. As my career progressed, the Army doctrine changed to Mission Command.
Mission Command was a more intent-based and outcome-focused doctrine. Commander’s relied on their intent to drive operations, meaning they only told you the destination, the goal, not necessarily how to get there.
Trust was a huge part of this approach. It was reminiscent of how the Union won the Battle of Gettysburg.
Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain’s regiment was told if they were overrun, the Union Army would be defeated. When Chamberlain’s regiment was basically out of ammunition, he didn’t lose his cool. He ordered one of the most heroic battlefield exploits in US History; an all-out bayonet charge.
He wasn’t told exactly what to do, rather, he was enabled and an empowered to know what to do to reach the goal.
His ability to understand the intent and outcome his commander desired not only allowed for the Union to win the day but led to Chamberlain being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Here’s what this story means for you:
Lead with the Goal
If you’re a leader, before you issue instructions or hand out tasks, take the time to think through what you actually want to achieve.
What is the intent behind the work you want done? What is the outcome you desire? Does it matter how your team attacks it?
Once you’ve identified the answers to these questions, make sure your team understands exactly what is expected of them. Hammer home that the outcome is what you care about, and the intention behind why that outcome is huge.
This will allow both you and your team to adapt and overcome the obstacles we all know you will encounter.
Leading this way is tough, though. It takes a certain mental toughness to be ok with not knowing exactly how your team is going to attack the problem set, but it’s worth it.
You will find it easier over time to do this.
If you are ensuring your intent and desired outcome are known and understood and trust in the people on your team, you will not only grow into a more adaptive leader, you will build an adaptive team.
Do this today: Identify at least one task and the intent and outcome you want that…