Thinking – About Adaptive Leadership


Recently, while teaching adaptive leadership to a group of supervisors, I got the impression that my participants felt that I was just asking them to be nicer to their employees.  After all, I was encouraging them to be more curious and ask more questions as opposed to primarily giving direction and making quick judgement.  I was asking them to get to know the stories going on around them as opposed to just assuming that the way you saw it was the way everyone else saw it.   That’s “being nice” – right?

Let me clarify. Not necessarily.

Although the work of adaptive leadership may look like “being nice” from a distance – it’s actually about something different.  It’s about being purposeful.  It’s about thinking in a different way.  If an employee of yours is not delivering on expectations it is the work of the supervisor to first – THINK.  Don’t just react.  Don’t just engage the tools that you’ve used in the past for setting a wayward employee straight.  Engage your mind.  Be curious.  What is going on right now?  How is what I’m feeling effecting this situation?  What does this moment, this employee, my team need from me right now?  How can I leverage this moment to further our team’s purpose?  Thinking about these things is critical.

Let me expand with a few thoughts.

Being aware of your feelings at any given moment can make a huge difference in leading well.  So – when you see an employee not doing what you expect – what are you feeling?  Are you triggered?  Have you spoken to this employee multiples times about this issue and they still aren’t getting it right?  Does that frustrate you?  Are you mad?  If so, in what ways are those feeling effecting your judgement right now?  If you respond/react with these feelings as a starting point – will it give you the results that you want?  If so – go for it.  If not – what now?  Think.

Next, if the employee isn’t living up to your standard – what is the standard?  What are the results you are really looking for?  Are you just trying to get your employees to obey the rules?  Or are you trying to build them into a team of producers?  Do you just want them to do what you say?  Or do you want them to learn to think like you do and begin making better decisions on their own?  Are you trying to build a culture of rule followers?  Supervisor followers?  Team players?  Independent thinkers?  Bright minds!?  Based on your answer –your response in this moment is not only going to effect this wayward employee – but all the other employees that are watching to see how you handle this.  Think.

Next, if you feel that you’ve communicated clearly and sufficiently about the issue and you still feel that your wayward employee is not making the progress you desire – is it possible that part of this problem is you?  Are the words and tools that you are currently using effective in this situation?  If not, in what way are you experimenting with new ways to communicate?  Have you clarified your purpose and expectations with this employee?  Have you been clear about the larger work of what you are trying to accomplish with your team?  Do you even know the answer to that question?  Finally, if you have labored with an employee for quite some time, and they are still not engaging productively with your team, why are they still here?  Think.

You might be saying, “Phew – how am I supposed to be thinking about all of this when I’m supposed to be making sure that product is being created and money is being made?”  At the risk of sounding over dramatic – you don’t have the luxury to not be thinking about these things.  The good news is that this work is adaptive – so we’re not trying to fix this situation – we can’t.  But we can and must be intentional about making progress – for you, for your wayward employee, for your team, for you company, for the world.

So what will you experiment with today?