The Nature of Effective Leadership – 2

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams

A guest post from

In the previous Effective Leadership post, embracing and leveraging challenges, changes and disruptions is what sets apart the manager from the effective adaptive leader.  Challenges arrive nearly daily.  Changes, sometimes with warning and sometimes out of the blue, emerge to create difficulty and disequilibrium.  Disrupters within the enterprise and without seem on the surface to threaten the status quo.

Effective adaptive leaders understand that these things are coming.  They prepare themselves for them first of all, and then seek to prepare the enterprise and the people for whom they have responsibility to embrace and leverage these change factors.  This can be the hard work of leadership, for it is in our nature to avoid challenges, conflicts, and disruptions.  For some, their temperament may not be conducive to the adaptive challenge.  Yet the necessary frame of reference, skills, insights, and strategies can all be acquired by the leader if they put themselves to the difficult task of self-development.  This task and the leader’s attention to it will define the nature of success or failure.

Following are some characteristics of the effective, adaptive leader.  Remember that these characteristics can be developed through intentional effort and action.

Effective adaptive leaders are constantly maintaining their ability to positively influence people and outcomes.  Leadership is effective based upon the leader’s ability to influence the enterprise toward positivity, progress and success.  These will take engagement and commitment from the team, two characteristics on cannot order or manage into a team.  Teams respond with engagement and commitment when they are positively influenced in that direction by their leadership.  Building influence as a leader depends upon three levels of initiative:

  1. Being subject matter expert in the necessary fields – influential leaders have sufficient humility to learn from those being led, and a furious resolve to become competent in grasping the leadership environment and challenges.
  2. Building authentic relationships – influential leaders bring openness, humility, honesty, and genuine personal regard and concern for the people being led (all of which will take significant time and will yield influential results beyond expectations)
  3. Building trust – influential leaders display the integrity and character the enterprise can rely on for honest information, clear explanations, and consistent values-driven direction.

Effective adaptive leaders inspire the team and the individuals on it.  When the challenges are thick and the changes loom on the horizon; when the conflicts and disruptions seem to be mounting, inspiring the team to rally and overcome can be a daunting task.  Many leaders do not go willingly to this task, and many do not even know how to be inspiring.  How this is done may vary from situation to situation, from leader to leader, but some common themes in inspiring leadership include:

  1. Inspiring a shared vision – inspiring leaders rally the team and the enterprise to a positive vision for the future even in light of current difficulties and instill an honest yet positive vision for a tomorrow that has leveraged and overcome the trials and disruptions of today.
  2. Optimism grounded in reality – inspiring leaders cultivate sincere personal optimism, spread that optimism to others strategically, balance the optimists with the pessimists in the enterprise, reframe difficulties as reasonable opportunities to be pursued, and stay grounded in reality at all times.
  3. Vision and quick victories – inspiring adaptive leaders are willing to find a “new mark,” a new goal and objectives if the old one is gone or no longer attainable; willing do something instead of dawdle or vacillate, to take action, look beyond personal needs in leading, and overcome uncertainty for self and others

“A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see.”   Leroy Eimes

Effective adaptive leaders understand the value of disrupters and zero-gravity influencers, embrace their role and leverage their strengths in input.  Zero-gravity thinkers are those people on the team who think without the gravity of the organizations culture, climate, and history to weigh them down.  They are often viewed as disrupters, and many dismiss them as uninformed, unrealistic, and trouble-makers.  Yet when it is time to adapt to new challenges, the old way of doing business is often not up to the challenge.  Challenges lead to disruptions, and disrupter are often the key to meeting the challenges.  The old guard will want to do things according to the old paradigm.  Zero-gravity thinkers are not burdened with that paradigm, and often see things that are useful and even vital that others cannot see.

  1. Disruption is first and foremost personal – effective adaptive leaders develop out of personally disruptive experiences and look for similar processes in the enterprise so that they can leverage them for individual and team development in the enterprise. While the adaptive leader will recognize, leverage, and even reward appropriate internal disruption, care will be taken to limit external disruption to the team and system.
  2. Whether one is practicing zero gravity, leading from the middle, or stepping into or initiating adaptive challenges, disruption will result and must be carefully and strategically led – successful growth and life, not chaos and destruction, are the goals.
  3. Enabling others to act is critical – the effective adaptive leader must encourage and enable people to act responsibly with entrepreneurial drive as opposed to managing all activities; they must be careful with with both their “yes” and “no” functions.
  4. Encouraging the heart of the team and its individuals – effective adaptive leaders give courage, laud initiative, call out producers with equality, and build an environment in which the team and its members have the courage and will to drive forward to success.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”  — Theodore Hesburgh

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