Effective Leadership in Difficult Times

Never underestimate change. What seems simple at the top is magnified at lower echelons and is extremely disruptive. It is a festering crisis that needs attention from senior management or else loyalty, efficiency, and productivity will suffer.”  – Wheeler L. Baker

A guest post from golevel5services.com

This series of posts is unpacking some of what is needed if leaders are to be effective in times of challenge, change, and disruption.  Leadership in such times must be adaptive, meaning it can adapt to the changing circumstances and help the people and the enterprise to live, thrive, and grow strong.  If a leader cannot accomplish the mission of moving the people and enterprise toward live, thriving, and strength in challenging times, the leader’s influence is maladaptive.

The quote above is true; what seems like a simple challenge, a straight-forward change, a moderate disruption is likely to produce significant difficulty down range in the enterprise.  Effective adaptive leaders have come to realize this dynamic, and will move to address the downrange implications of challenge, change and disruption in a proactive manner.  They will move to maintain healthy individuals and teams even when there is no significant challenge looming, knowing a healthy team now is more likely to be reliable if things change.  True leadership is, after all, about people.
When change is eminent, when challenges loom and disruptions best the enterprise, the effective adaptive leaders will invest time and energy into the people on the team, and into the team itself.  When most managers would focus on “solving the problem,” the adaptive leader will empower the team to work on resolutions to leverage the problem into growth and energy.  All the while the adaptive leader is working to maintain the health of the team and its individual members.

How does an effective leader do this work?  Following are strategies for adaptive responses to the team and the enterprise in the midst of an adaptive challenge.

  1. Adaptive leaders, to be effective leaders in an adaptive challenge, reinforce the team message – they speak and act in ways that promote the team identity and healthy team self-esteem, knowing that if the team unravels the ability to meet the adaptive challenge is significantly diminished.
  2. Adaptive leaders work to minimize status differences in the enterprise – they lead in this by their example as they join in even the most menial tasks, encourage a flat hierarchy, hold their managers accountable for the same behaviors, and insist on courtesy and respect for all.
  3. Adaptive leaders manage and leverage conflict in a proactive manner – rather than hoping conflict will resolve on its own, they deal with anger early in the process, proactively, and in small doses; they engage disruptors, dissidents, and zero-gravity thinkers (previous post) while avoiding needless power struggles.
  4. Adaptive leaders know the importance of reducing tension and pressure to improve morale and engagement -the lighten up the situation when they can and celebrate and encourage laughter with team members and in their own lives.
  5. Adaptive leaders know their influence for good in tough times – in all time – hinges on their demonstrations of values and commitment – they leverage symbolism in their own actions and lead not by directive but by personal example; they do this in substantive ways the clearly indicate the importance of the substance over the symbolism.

The leader of the enterprise in the midst of an adaptive challenge must be a visible, engaged leader if positive example and influence is to be a result of the leadership.  Over the last few posts, the role and work of the effective adaptive leaders is challenging in terms of size and scope.  Such leadership is taxing upon the leader.  Maintaining the leadership presence for the long haul is both an important and a difficult work.

For these reasons, effective leaders take care of themselves.  They do so for their own good, of course, but also for the primary purpose of taking care of the people under their leadership.  Taking care of the enterprise, the team, and the individuals on the team is primary, and the work of such leadership is by definition selfless work.

How do adaptive leaders care for themselves in the midst of an adaptive challenge?  Here are a few strategies:

  1. Adaptive leaders take care of themselves by doing what it takes to maintain stamina – they get enough rest over the course of a week, get the exercise and movement they need to stay strong, and they engage with those outside of the enterprise who can energize them for the journey – family, friends, and mentors.
  2. Adaptive leaders must let go of guilt, for guilt accumulates from missed opportunities, bad calls, and organizational missteps – processing these and letting go of guilt frees them to move forward in confidence, and to help team members to do the same.
  3. Adaptive leaders need to understand and be effective in balancing time for doing “deep work” with effective recovery time – they manage time for working while in the “flow,” and they get time for no work where they can recharge, recover, and refocus.
  4. When faced with an obstacle that seems insurmountable, adaptive leaders do not give up; they become more creative and leverage the creativity in their team – they become more tenacious and model that tenacity for others, clearly giving the message, “there is always another way.”

“We are not powerless. We have tremendous potential for good or ill. How we choose to use that power is up to us; but first we must choose to use it. We’re told every day, “You can’t change the world.” But the world is changing every day. Only question is…who’s doing it? You or somebody else?”  –  J. Michael Straczynski

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