5 Rules for an Adaptive Leadership

​​The crisis is the test of leadership. The Covid-19 pandemic crisis is an opportunity for leaders to test their leadership skills and align themselves to the need of time. Crisis though reduced but not yet resolved. It is still evolving with all the imperfection, uncertainty, and missing information. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon affecting all the facets of social life, such as politics, economy, culture, and set patterns of life. 

The crisis creates a chorus the provides opportunities hidden in it. The crisis handling needs an out of box thinking, creative crisis handling techniques, and an adaptive leadership approach. The adaptive leadership can best be explained by way of the following 4As hypotheses. 

Anticipation:- refers to possible future requirements, emerging tendencies, and possibilities.

Articulation:- is to develop a framework to create an environment of understanding needs and to streamline actions to meet these needs.

Adaptation:- Formulating a system of continuous learning while adjusting the response to emerging issues. 

 Accountability:- is to create a transparent and reliable system of openness for decision making and implementation. 

The above 4As approach was witnessed, as a, by and large, response to the pandemic. The example of the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca is a fit case of discussion for adaptive leadership. Having a strong presence and operations in China, they came to know about the virus at an early stage. They immediately started work on anticipating the coming crisis and emerging requirements. The firm also started articulating expected needs by making internal and external arrangements to raise the commitment level for supporting the counter efforts. 

The next was to adapt to coming changes by developing new business models and entering into effective partnerships to face and handle the exigencies of the looming threat of Covid-19. “Meet the crisis” readiness included developing health facilities, testing and screening issues, cases managements issues, and above all, the core issue of developing a vaccine. 

The collective Covid-19 crisis handling experience proved a healthy learning opportunity for active players from health and administration. Learning, thanks to the response to the Covid-19 crisis, has resulted in the following five guiding principles of an adaptive leadership  

1. Evidence-based Learning & Adapting

The essence of the adapted leadership approach is enabling teams and organizations, continuously assessing actions, and watching the outcome of decisions. This approach helps in developing a learning curve that guides through the mistakes, misfires, and failures. It provides a way forward for the timely interventions to make corrections for adapting the methodology of risk avoidance. The learning helps in devising a clear and transparent method to assess and determine the actions to adopt the best options in the given circumstances. 

The actions are taken based on data by carefully interpreting the facts. Collection and storing the operationally relevant data is vital for the assessment of the measures, successes, and failures. The changes in data set the pattern of changes of actions, setting trends for adopting measures to make early corrections. Adapting, based on evidence arising out of social learning, worked well in developing a response strategy in dealing with disease outbreaks like Ebola, Smallpox, and the most recently the Covid-19. 

2. Hypothetical Stress Testing

The institutions believing in advance thinking like banks, defense outfits, aviation industry, regularly keep on stress testing to measure their ability to face any unasked crisis. Such exercises are based on hypothetical assumptions and simulations for adapting a response to possible future happenings. 

A rigorous and the most systematic approach to deal with Covid-19 has developed by the Boston Consulting Group. The study uses the military approaches to strategic learning, guides firms to establish a model of “anticipation, intelligence, and response”. The different response scenarios are used to streamline plans for the decision making process to deal with uncertainties. 

3. Deliberative Decision Making 

The leaders are facing challenges in adapting response strategies against the Covid-19 crisis. The decisions are based on the available data that is extremely volatile. Leaders feel shy in making the daring decisions in the wake of fast-changs in data and avert the possible risks by sticking to tested safety levels. The decision-makers need to be very clear about the assumptions. They need to ascertain what they need to do and why? 

The national responses to the Covid-19 pandemic by countries like  South KoreaTaiwan, and Germany; provide an interesting study for the leaders to learn. The Smart lock Down strategy by the Pakistan Government worked well and attracted admiration from the WHO authorities. These responses are good stuff for a case study to learn as to how the systems can be integrated to boost productivity.

4. Transparency & Accountability

No system is ever perfect but strives to attain perfection. The adaptive leaders are more exposed to commit mistakes as they make decisions in a troubled environment. They learn from the outcome of their decision, that fizzles out by the fast-changing facts before they make their next decisions. The leaders then need to be more intuitive than being seasoned. Responding to the unseen is more challenging than deciding for the known situations having similarities and tracks in the past. The adaptive leaders then need to assure more transparency in setting priorities, engaging stockholders, and creating a trust for effective crisis response. 

5. Collective Action

Decisions affect stakeholders. An adaptive leader must take the stakeholders in confidence and prepare them to take better ownership of its decision. Adaptive leadership has more responsibility towards the society and community. Mobilizing collective resources is vital to engage people. The interesting fact is that adaptive leadership is needed more in times of crisis. The decisions made in the crisis desire the collective ownership by the people whom those matter the most. 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

  • Umar Hayat
  • The author has rich management exposure in banking, textile, and teaching in business administration.