Identify, pursue skills, competencies to thrive and build a strong organization.
As post-acute and long-term care providers continue to move into an unknown, uncertain future, it is essential that leaders do what I call “mirror work.” This reflective effort requires that leaders assess their skills and competencies to determine how ready they are to move organizations into uncharted territory. It requires an attention to developing the critical competence of adaptive leadership.
Let’s begin by defining the term. Adaptive leadership centers around strategies that create the type of change that builds and enables the capacity, at the individual and the organizational level, to thrive. The interventions associated with adaptive leadership build on the past, particularly past successes. This approach relies heavily on experimentation and the integration of diverse perspectives. It takes an investment of time, the utilization of a well-developed strategy, and the willingness to displace, rearrange, and restore entire systems or elements of those systems. The very idea of the kind of shake-up sought by adaptive leadership will make some readers stop right here, as the desire to preserve the status quo drives many leaders and their organizations into inertia.
Moving on to the most salient elements of the theory undergirding this concept, the first element is that leadership is based on influence, not authority. This means that leaders have to develop strong relational skills–not being buddies with everyone, but rather having the social skill to make sincere connections. The next element of the theory is that transformational change is required in most organizations. This is not subtle change at the margins. It is change that alters the DNA of the enterprise, in other words, disruptive change intended for good. The final element of the theory important to this article is that loss is inherent in adaptive leadership, as is growth. An old friend told me that you cannot hold on and move on. The decision has to be made to determine what is expendable and let it go.
Exactly what are the adaptive challenges that necessitate the development of this competency? A prime example is when leaders are required to deal with multiple stakeholders who present competing, compelling needs. This could take the shape of regulators increasing scrutiny while reimbursement is drying up and families are advocating fiercely for better care, staff demands for consideration of work/life balance, and owners demands for profit–all of which represent the adaptive challenges faced in this environment. By their very nature, adaptive challenges have nonlinear inputs and unclear solutions. The waters are murky, and solutions from the past simply will not work with adaptive challenges.
What is expected of a leader who wants to build adaptive skills? The practices are fairly straightforward. They begin with behavioral flexibility. To be adaptive, the behaviors must be situationally relevant. Effective leaders utilizing this approach are able to find the balance between competing goals and competing values that require difficult trade-offs. For instance, reliability and efficiency may compete with the need for innovation within an organizational system.
The practice is further developed when leaders demonstrate the ability to use “both/and” rather than “either/or” thinking. This requires them to consider multiple perspectives, integrate different positions, and promote innovative solutions. It involves a willingness and ability to discuss the sacred cows and taboos in the organization. Further, independent judgement is expected and required from the adaptive leader. As this capacity is developed, reflection and continuous learning offer new ways to interpret the environment and new ways to approach the work.
Finally, let’s explore the notion of continuous learning. This extends far beyond attending one’s favorite trade or professional association conference each year and sitting in on a few sessions. Continuous learning is the intentional search for different approaches drawn from different disciplines. It is the hunger for information from varied sources. It is evidenced by leaders who read, listen and seek growth. These are the leaders most apt to master the competencies of adaptive leadership.
Joanne L. Smikle, PhD, has extensive experience consulting with aging services organizations interested in enhancing their effectiveness through developing leadership competence and strategic clarity. She is a respected authority on leadership and organization development. Read more of her work at smiklespeaks.com.