Adaptive leadership Style and Skills for Changing Challenging Times

July 23rd, 2020 | By Madhu
Adaptive leadership Style and Skills for Changing Challenging Times

The current pandemic has forced organizations and leaders to embrace change. According to Scott Maccabe, President, and CEO of Toshiba Global services, “ a leader needs to be adaptive and flexible, by being flexible you are allowing yourself to think outside your comfort zone, you are more responsive to needs around you than looking at what is important to you “. Does that ring a bell for you, it did for me!!

We see a lot of adaptations done by organizations during this pandemic: working remotely, switching to the online platforms, indigenously developed apps, airlines shifting to new ways of operation, etc. I, as an executive & leadership coach, was curious to understand what mindset a leader would need to effectively make this happen. This was when I learned about Adaptive Leadership. 

What is Adaptive Leadership?

What is Adaptive Leadership - Leadership Development - CoachwithMadhu

Adaptive Leadership is a model that was introduced by Ronal Heifetz and Marty Linsky. Leadership in this context is about influencing change by mobilizing a group of Individuals to handle tough and unforeseen challenges, thriving and emerging successful in the end. 

Adaptive leadership comes into play when there are recurring problems, challenging business environments and there are no technical solutions, no historical solutions, and no expert advice that can be used. Adaptive leaders make progress in such a situation through experimentation by bringing the entire organization to search for solutions. The process is inclusive, empathetic, autonomous and a winning solution for all stakeholders are found.

While Core Leadership skills (strategy, decision making, communication, getting people together, agility, result focusing, risk-taking, and resilience) are needed, what sets a leader apart in a VUCA environment is Adaptive Leadership Skills.


4 Foundations of Adaptive Leadership:

4 Foundations of Adaptive Leadership - Adaptive Leadership Strategies & Principles - coachwithMadhu

Infographic on below highlighted points

1. Emotional Intelligence: The ability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. The leader uses this awareness to manage themselves effectively and develop quality relationships. 

2. Organizational Justice: The leader nurtures a culture of honesty. The leader is willing to accommodate other people’s views. This gives them a sense of being valued and respected. 

3. Character: The leader embodies a true sense of transparency, openness, and creativity. They earn respect by walking the talk. 

4. Development: The leaders go out of their way to learn new things, adapt to new techniques, evaluate if the technique is yielding results. The whole organization experiences growth and development. 


Also read: 5 Must-Know Listening Types, A Leader Needs To Know Also read: 5 Must-Know Listening Types, A Leader Needs To Know Click To Tweet



Below are the much-needed 9 skills for an Adaptive Leader:

Skills of An Adaptive Leader - Leadership coaching - Adaptive leadership strategies - coachwithmadhu

1. Embrace diversity of views from all stakeholders. 

2. Evaluate the view objectively and take advantage of the views that create a positive impact on the organization 

3. Let go of non-productive practices and strategies that are not serving the core purpose 

4. Being open to experimentation and encouraging innovation from the stakeholders 

5. Invest resources behind the innovative techniques and strategies 

6. Patience, persistence, perseverance, and willingness to undergo the process of change 

7. Acknowledge failures in experimentation

8. Foresee any resistance and reluctance to implement new changes. Embracing and addressing such resistance positively 

9. Link change initiative to the core value of the organization.


Heifetz predicted some challenges. Adaptive Leadership is all about experimenting, innovation, and making continuous adjustments, a change in attitude and adjustment of policies is required to implement, sustain, and thrive this process. 

Shifting individual values, beliefs and perceptions is another major challenge. Letting go of past practices that are no longer effective is not as easy as it sounds, it requires for the leader and the organization to acknowledge and accept that it is no longer serving the purpose. 

The most important challenge of all is the willingness of the leader to listen. If leadership is about inspiring people, how would you do it without listening to people? It is important for a leader to know & understand the listening types of his/her team to build better relationships with the team.

Adaptive leadership is not about power but about willingness to listen and adapt to the recommendation given by the stakeholders. The leader should move to the mindset where he/she understands that listening to others is not about giving up your views, it is about being more informed and looking things objectively to bring the change. 

I invite you to reflect on your adaptive leadership skills, it’s never late to learn one!!  


References : 

  1. Heifetz, R. A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press.
  4. Mulder, P. (2017). Adaptive Leadership. Retrieved 01-07-2021 from tools here:
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Madhu Kanna - Certified Executive Coach | Leadership coach

Madhu Kanna

I am a Certified Executive Coach and I work with leaders to help them play at their full potential!!

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