If the Teens were known as “the decade of disruption”, then the 20s are already shaping to be the dec-ade of adaptation. With the implementation of war-time like measures to deal with the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), we are facing a societal reset where our values, behaviours and attitudes need to change if we are to survive and thrive in the new normal.
So far this year, I have supported clients through:
- Bushfires, Cyclone and Floods here in Australia
- Global Cyber attack
- Global Coronavirus Outbreak.
The impacts of these crises each have been significant. One client alone has been directly impacted by all of these simultaneously. To say that this level of crises are unprecedented is an understatement.
Throughout the bushfires we’ve seen inspirational stories of resilience in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, this solidarity and sentiment didn’t carry across into the Coronavirus, where selfish images of supermarket hoarders and Bondi beachgoers undermine the efforts of the government to contain the pandemic.
As humans, our ability to adapt to a changing and uncertain environment is being challenged every day and we all seek strong and adaptive leadership to help guide us through the uncertainty.
After observing some amazing leaders throughout my career in the military and as a crisis advisor, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what makes a great “adaptive leader”
Adaptive leadership consists of the following two key elements:
- The qualities a leader demonstrates.
- The situational role they play.
At its core, is the concept of trust and whether a leader truly understands the situation and is able to provide viable solutions that people can get behind.
Effective adaptive leaders have the following qualities (definitions taken from Cambridge Dictionary.)
Proactive: Defn: taking action by causing change and not only reacting to change when it happens. Thinking and operating ahead of the situation and the issues; facilitating engagement and acting and operating strategically. “Fronting up” because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of recognition.
Reassuring: Defn: making you feel less worried. This is based on a confidence in the way the leader is operating and handling themselves, and the way they are engaging with others. Being armed with the most trusted information, best planning processes and acting ahead of the situation assures stakehold-ers that you can be trusted.
Empathetic: Defn: Having the ability to imagine how someone else feels. Empathy defines the human face of any situation and understanding through enquiry is the key. Being able to quickly gauge the im-pact of your actions on others and to place yourself into the shoes of your stakeholders enables you to assess the feasibility of your strategies. A great way to do this quickly in a crisis is to employ red teams or focus groups.
Leadership Roles: The role a leader plays is less about the authority of their appointment and more about the situational role they play. This is where empathy kicks in, ego goes out the door and the leader lets their actions speak louder than their words.
Cameron Schwab has two questions that leaders should ask themselves:
– What do you bring to the team?
– What are you prepared to do for the team?
When to “play your role”: While all leaders at some point feel obliged to lead the way, sometimes it is better to play your role. A football coach can’t play the game for the players, but they play a pivotal role in preparing their team to perform and achieve team success.
As leaders, you cant choose when you want to lead, but you do get to choose the role you play and how you will apply your skills to support your team’s success. The adaptive leader reads the situation and picks the right moment to inspire, enable or support.
Inspirer: Defn: a person who makes someone feel that they want to do something and can do it. Motivat-ing and inspiring people to achieve a common goal is a fundamental skill. Leaders inspire through their actions, intent and effort. As T.D. Jakes says, “Your words tell people what you think. Your actions tell people what you believe.”
Supporter: Defn: someone who supports a particular idea, group, or person. Making someone feel sup-ported doesn’t mean following them blindly. High performing teams challenge performance goals, but do it in a supportive way. They support others to be their best, and in turn, the whole team lifts. “How can I make others around me better”
Enabler: Defn: something or someone that makes it possible for a particular thing to happen or be done. Opening up channels, freeing up political or strategic obstacles, facilitating and enabling collaboration are all critical activities that enable success.
PM Scott Morrison – A Case Study of Two Crises
During the Australian Bushfires, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was heavily criticised for getting his role wrong. Off the back of his failed holiday in Hawaii, he returned and overplayed his role, seeking to be the “inspiring leader”. He was widely derided when we saw footage of him and his entourage visit-ing fire affected communities and forcing handshakes with unwilling participants. In the eyes of the public, he lacked empathy.
Moving into the Coronavirus crisis, he has adjusted his role. As an enabler and supporter, he is proac-tively engaging with the states, managing the federal response, providing financial assistance and em-powering collaboration. Whilst he has a long way to go to win our trust, he has adapted his role to this situation and in turn, is leading in a way that is more congruent with our expectations. The challenge he faces is how he will inspire us to work through these uncertain times together.
We are heading into a period of unprecedented change, a global societal reset. It is difficult to under-stand what role you need to play in any given situation. Understanding through enquiry helps leaders adapt their behaviours and their role to the situation and gain the trust of their stakeholders. Those leaders who adapt will thrive during this uncertainty.