Adaptive (Smart) Leadership for a Changing World

Now more than ever before, leaders and senior managers are under pressure to adapt their leadership style to reflect a changing world – a world where the challenges, circumstances and uncertainties in the workplace are unfamiliar. Even five years ago who would have anticipated…

  • The intensity of environmental issues and pressures
  • Opportunities to do business in the metaverse
  • Gender identity terminology, expectations and conflict
  • Cultural appropriation awareness
  • Unpredictable stock markets, crypto currency crash
  • Remote and/or flexible working becoming the norm, including some staff flat out refusing to return to offices
  • Digital/technology innovations including the explosion of video calls for meetings
  • Supply chain changes/challenges (resulting from war in Europe, China delays, Russian embargos, Suez Canal groundings etc.)
  • ‘Trial’ (of individuals and companies) by social media (a massive loss of control of our own messaging)
  • Widespread labour and skill shortages, the Great Resignation plus endless new starters leaving within just 45 days of starting
  • Woke washing/rainbow washing/green washing trip hazards (and opportunities)
  • Mental health challenges (c 53% of every workforce) with few mental health support services available
  • Inflation rates and a cost-of-living crisis not seen in the UK in over 40 years

Phew! And the list could go on.

So, our big question to you today is: Which of your directors and senior team are truly ready and able to comfortably adapt their style to accommodate and address such dramatic changes in so many different aspects of business?

Surely adaptability has got to be the key skill requirement for all senior teams at present. And adaptability in leadership style is just one part of that.

A failure to adapt 

In respect of leadership and day-to-day operations, if we don’t adapt both ourselves and our organisations run the risk of becoming obsolete. Surely, we would have to be mad to bury our head in the sand in the face of all that is going on in the world around us, despite that sometimes feeling like the easier option in life for who doesn’t like a bit of quiet time in the comfort zone? Although the problem is not spending a bit of time in our comfort zone but rather getting stuck in the comfort zone and unable to face the Fear Zone that stands between us and personal growth.

Do you want to become OBSOLETE?

If you don’t, you need to be thinking about what leadership styles are required for different situations (commanding, democratic, coaching, affiliative etc), what soft skills you need to develop to be a modern professional manager (e.g. emotional intelligence, social intelligence, collaboration, effective communication, digital competence and confidence etc), what behaviours you need to consider (e.g. no more micro management, developing accountability, managing sensitive issues i.e. no more avoidance or head in sand etc), what education you need (e.g. understanding of the different motivators of different generations or greater knowledge about different cultures)

Adaptability and continuous adaptation is not a simple ask

We recognise that it’s not simple ask to continually adapt. Pity those who are sole traders, no team members to support and encourage, or even drive the change. A hard uphill task if it’s all on one set of shoulders. But the rest of us have teams and adaptability can be a team effort for team gain if we approach it with the right mindset.

As Charles Darwin said, “it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.

Why not look around at some of the teams in your business, is there any connection between successful happy teams and the adaptability of its leader and team members?

What is your leadership style?

Leadership – to be able to adapt your style you have to know what your style tends to be. Do you? Are you sufficiently self-aware of what you do already? And the same goes for your leadership team, directors down to junior management.

From the Great Man Theories of the late 1800’s, Trait theories from early 1900’s, Behavioural theories from 1920’s onwards and of course the Contingency leadership theories of today, we could offer you hundreds of theories of leadership to reflect on when identifying your own style.

If you want to narrow it down though, look at the 6 leadership styles by Daniel Goleman. As good a place to start as any.


Most leaders tend to have one or two ‘go to’ leadership styles. They might occasionally adapt but they will typically return to their ‘go to’ styles. Which are yours?

We come across many affiliative leaders as that can so often feel comfortable in today’s world where employees demand empathy, involvement and understanding. Affiliative leaders focus on personal relationships, team wellbeing, often enjoying the harmony in the team over and above results. Who doesn’t like to be liked? This is a great leadership style for when the team needs to bond, when the team needs to have a joint focus. It’s not so great though for the bottom line or for driving business growth as affiliative leaders might lose focus on their ultimate responsibility which is to deliver what has been asked of them by the shareholders of the business – not, as many managers will tell you, to their team members.

Another real comfort zone for some managers is to stick with the commanding style of leadership. Commanding leadership is about control, a belief that outputs will be as intended as as the level of control is such that no other outcome is possible.

To some commanding leaders will be the micro-managers of the world, the managers who give their subordinates little space to grow and breathe, the autocratic team leaders who often focus more on inputs than outputs. To others, these will be seen to be the ‘strong’ leaders who set standards and have absolute clarity about the way forward. Having watched a thousand films, or read a thousand books, we have all been brought up on the concept of the ‘strong leader’… the hero, the one who saves the day, the one who can drive success. Unfortunately for our ‘strong’ leaders their style of leadership is no longer in vogue, other than in specific or exceptional circumstances.

Adapting leadership styles

Once you recognise your ‘go to’ leadership style then we have an opportunity to consider other leadership styles open and available to us. Daniel Goleman suggested that we should be aware of all the different styles and adapt to what is needed, when needed. So, we might have a ‘go to’ style but we should be ready to use any or all of the 6 leadership styles as needs require.

Honesty around adaptability

A key issue to consider is that so many people insist they are great at adapting, so they fail, or refuse, to take time out to learn how to adapt or figure out how to do things differently.

Someone recently said that they are continuously adapting, learning everything new that comes onto the market. On closer examination, what he was actually saying was that as a techie, he was endlessly interested in new tech innovations and was an early adopter of all new tech. However, whilst he adapted to stay current in his technical role, he was reportedly not adapting other aspects of his behaviour such as his communication style to reflect the more considerate, supportive management style his team were demanding of him. He was also digging his heels in when his company was trying to make organisational changes to reflect the demands of the marketplace. So not quite as adaptable as his self-image!

Adaptability must be all encompassing. We can’t pick and choose if we are to be truly adaptable.

Kick start your journey to greater adaptability

There is lots to explore here around leadership styles, adapting our leadership style and adaptability generally. Adaptability is no longer a choice for leaders. It really is a case of adapt or die. Of course, if we don’t adapt, we drag our teams and our organisations down with us. That probably makes us, in the eyes of society, negligent. Tough word that!

However, none of us is perfect so here are a few questions to kick start you and your leaders on your journey to greater adaptability:

  1. What resources (people, software etc) do we need to run this business in 5 years’ time and that, if we put in place now, will put us ahead of our competitors. (Future thinking is critical for adaptability)
  2. What do our employees understand is the most dominant leadership style in this organisation and is that in line with what our employees say they look for and want in modern leaders? (Listening and adapting to our teams is key)
  3. Do I close people and conversations that make me feel uncomfortable? In doing this do I show others that I have a closed, rather than open mind? (Having an open mind is an integral part of being adaptable)
  4. Do I expect my middle managers to be learning lots of new skills, but, if I am honest, I resist attending any training myself (ego or arrogance getting in the way?) (We can’t say we are adaptable if the evidence to all around us is that we resist change and personal development)
  5. When did I last assess my own AQ (adaptability quotient) and that of my team members? How can I assess it? (Clear assessment provides so much clarity around where change is needed)

And finally, if it’s time you had some training for the leaders in your business then lots of different approaches can be taken to this depending on the interests and needs of each leadership team:

  • Adapting your leadership style to deliver results and lead great teams – 3 or 6 hours
  • Adaptability in team working – a fun session for team members – 3 or 6 hours

We provide face to face, online training, eLearning and coaching so please do call us.

Have a look at our training page for more training options, but a few of our most popular requests at present include:

  • D&I (various options including: Developing Respect in the Workplace, Speak out and Listen up!, Unconscious Bias, Microaggressions, Sexual Harassment)
  • Junior, Middle and Senior Management Development programmes (including pre and post course work, individual learning plans, coaching)
  • Practical courses for HR teams (note taking in formal meetings, managing discipline, absence and grievances)
  • A people masterclass for line managers (understanding personalities, conflict, team dynamics, motivators, stressor etc)

Call us to explore a few options, after all here are a few comments from recent delegates and businesses…

“This was the most enjoyable and encouraging training session that I have been to”

“The trainer was warm, engaging and the feedback from those who attended the course has been really positive. We look forward to booking further Courses with Jaluch in the future”

“Our Fundamentals in Management & Leadership course has been received extremely well across our business platforms. From the three modules, delegates are provided with key takeaway materials, tools and techniques that not just inspire them, but allow them to implement into their daily working lives”

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