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Applying Adaptive Leadership in Challenging Environments

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  • 0:03 Challenging Environments
  • 1:03 Adaptive Leadership
  • 2:28 Strategies for Success
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Adaptive leadership can improve both the culture and the bottom line of a company, but can it be applied in organizations with challenging cultures? In this lesson, we'll look at how to be an adaptive leader in a tough environment.

Challenging Environments

Maria has just been hired to head a hospitality company that's had many problems in the industry. The company is struggling financially, but the environment is also problematic. Employees don't trust the management of the company. There's a lot of conflict between different groups in the company, including conflict over politics, gender, race, and other issues. Maria is excited but stressed out. How can she lead in such a challenging environment?

Business challenges are often framed in terms of revenue, but the truth is that many business issues spring from unresolved issues within a challenging work environment. This could mean issues with divisiveness around politics or discrimination. It could also encompass environments where there are factions that believe in different visions for the organization or places where distrust and distress are common. To help Maria think about how to lead her team, let's take a look at adaptive leadership and strategies for implementation within a challenging environment.

Adaptive Leadership

The company Maria has just joined has been struggling in a rapidly changing industry. Disrupters have completely changed the way that people vacation, and it's impacting the company's bottom line. Maria wants to change the company so that they can more rapidly respond to customer needs and industry changes.

One way to do that is with adaptive leadership. This means creating an environment where innovation and continuous improvement allow all employees to make decisions and respond to challenges within and outside the company.

Adaptive leaders have several hallmarks. They tend to be the following:

  • Emotionally aware, meaning they're conscious of what they're feeling and why
  • Self-reflective, meaning they're willing to stop and look at their own motivations
  • Committed to self-improvement, which is always trying to better their work

These matter, but most of all, adaptive leaders are able to let go of control a little and let their employees experience a little more autonomy.

But what about Maria? In her company, there are so many problems that she worries that she needs to crack down and be a firmer leader. If she gives people autonomy, she worries that the fighting and divisions within the company will only get worse.

It's true that adaptive leadership is often implemented in organizations with a healthy environment, but it can also be implemented in challenging environments. In fact, adaptive leadership can be used to change a challenging environment to one that's healthier.

Strategies for Success

If adaptive leadership can turn the company around and also improve the social culture of the company, Maria is all in. But how can she do that?

There are several things that Maria can do to apply adaptive leadership in her challenging workplace. They include the following:

Identify the challenges internally and externally: Maria needs to identify exactly what she needs to address. This means identifying the external challenges in the industry that are hurting the bottom line. But, it also means identifying the internal challenges that are impacting the company culture.

For example, maybe her employees feel insecure in their jobs. Adding job security might help alleviate some of the tensions. Or perhaps there's not a clear cut process for reporting discrimination at the company. Maria needs to identify every challenge standing in the way of success.

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