Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 11/10/2008

In Good to Great by Jim Collins, the author says:

"Enduring great companies preserve their core values and purpose while their business strategies and operating practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. This is the magical combination of 'preserve the core and stimulate progress.'"
The key to building an adaptable company is having leaders that recognize the purpose and values of the business don't change.  However, the strategies that are implemented to accomplish the company's purposes are very fluid and flexible.  

I heard this principle described best by Mark Driscoll when he explained that we hold our purpose in one hand and our strategies in another.  Our business purposes and our strategies are two distinct entities that should be held separately, not in one hand. There are three types of businesses that emerge based on how they treat their purpose and strategies:
  1. Adaptable Companies close the hand with the purpose and leave open the hand with the strategies.  They will not compromise their values and business purposes but they are very open and flexible to implement strategies that will work for this day and time. 
  2. Dying Companies will hold both hands closed.  They understand what their purpose is but they do not see the need to adapt to changing times so that they can accomplish this purpose.  
  3. Directionless Companies will hold both hands open. They are not sure what their real business purpose is and they are constantly shifting their strategies.
Adaptable companies are committed to their purpose but willing to change their strategies to continue to meet their customer's needs. Our values and business purpose should be held closed while we open our minds to new ideas and strategies for success.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 11/03/2008

Today's corporate leadership training courses focus too much on teaching leaders what to think rather than how to think.  Stephen Zacarro, a noted psychologist at George Mason University, says that most leadership training classes focus on developing routine expertise.  This traditional leadership training methodology teaches leaders highly proceduralized skills that are not transferable when problems become non-routine, novel and ill-defined.  

To train leaders to be adaptable we must focus on teaching them how to think. Adaptable leaders are comfortable operating in a complex environment when solutions to problems are not clear. Training for leadership adaptability requires leaders to be put into a wide variety of leadership challenges and asked to come up with creative and manageable solutions to the problems. Adaptable leaders thrive in uncertainty and are comfortable learning as they go.  Traditional leadership training will hinder adaptability when problems are complex and solutions are not clear.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 10/29/2008

In a study conducted by Crawford International and the authors studied the correlation between a company's adaptive corporate culture and their financial performance.  Financial performance was measured from 1996 to 2005.  All businesses in these results had annual revenue's in excess of $350M.  

The authors state, "Companies reporting high levels of adaptability in their corporate culture cite much higher levels of financial performance than those companies reporting non-adaptive corporate cultures." To be more specific, the net income growth of adaptive companies rose 989% while the non-adaptive companies declined 47%. In addition, the stock price grew 204% for the adaptive companies and only 70% for non-adaptive companies.

Building an adaptable workforce is not only critical for survival in today's economic turmoil. An adaptive workforce apparently knows better how to drive financial performance.  Building an adaptable workforce will be the critical capability that ensures business success as we climb out of the economic hole that we are in now.  

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 10/17/2008

With the current economic crisis continuing to slap us in the face with an incredible wake up call I find it hard to stomach that businesses are closing doors all over the country.  If not for the federal government stepping in we would see so many more businesses experiencing the same fate. Amazing... or is it? 

Foster and Kaplan point out in their book Creative Destruction that  very few companies have endured for a long time.  Of the original Forbes 100 companies from 1917 only 13 have survived independently to the present day.  All 13 of these survivors except for GE have been mediocre to poor performers.  The problem is it is very difficult to continue to adapt for success over many generations.  Organizational success is dependent on radical transformation, not once or twice, but continuously.  Surviving this economic crisis or future challenges will require businesses to set themselves on a constant track of transformational change.

"Adapt or die" has become more than just a saying.  In today's economy, it's becoming a reality.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 10/08/2008

I just read an article titled, “Carrollton’s oldest business closing its doors.”  The owners go on to say, “The current economic times, changing customer buying trends and suppliers’ business conditions, all were factored into this decision to close.”   It’s a sad story but it is far from the only one.  With the unbelievable instability of our economy we all know too well that businesses come and go.  Technology advancements, market volatility, new business models, globalization and the speed of business create an environment of rapid change and challenge that can cause your head to spin.

If you are reading this article your business has about a 30% chance of being around in 2010.  Those odds aren’t very good.  It reminds me of the movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson.  The British Army came to fight the war of Independence as they had always fought wars.  They lined up their soldiers facing the enemy hoping that they had more men prepared to take a bullet than the Americans did.  Mel Gibson had a different strategy. He and his band of misfits attacked the British using guerilla warfare.  The British failed to adapt to the change in warfare resulting is severe casualties.  The small band of guerillas did more damage to those British soldiers than was imaginable at the time. 

The same will happen to today’s businesses if they don’t adapt.  If you fight your wars in business the way you have always done it you may be attacked and blindsided by some guerilla warriors.  Or you can choose to be the guerilla warrior yourself.  When you learn to adapt you can survive the onslaught of competitive forces that will come at you in the future.  The strategies that brought you success in the past may be the last plans to implement in the future.  If you plan on surviving in today’s competitive environment you better change strategies.  Adapt or Die!  It’s the mantra for the leaders of the future. 

The ability to adapt to changing circumstances on a daily basis will allow your company to survive and even thrive on the battlefield of business.  A recent study by IBM Global Business Services said that an “adaptable workforce is a critical capability.”  Warren Bennis, a noted author in the field of leadership says, “Adaptive capacity… is the essential competence of leaders.”

Crawford International conducted a study of the relationship between adaptable organizations and financial performance.  Leaders in more than two-hundred Fortune 500 companies were interviewed.   The businesses with an adaptive corporate culture experienced a net income growth of 989% over ten years.  The businesses with a non-adaptive corporate culture saw a net income decline of 47% over the same ten year period.

The real business challenge is that only 14% of companies say their workforce is very capable of adapting to change.  It is no wonder so many businesses go into extinction every year.  Of the Forbes 100 companies of 1917, only 13 have survived independently today.  Of those 13 companies that have survived, all but one has been mediocre to poor performers. 

Every day new challenges are coming your way.  Ensure success for the future by being confident that your company is prepared for the unknown challenges of tomorrow.  As the complexity of your operating environment increases so will your need for adaptable leaders.  Karl Weick said, “Leaders who are highly adaptive are able to thrive in uncertainty, quickly make sense of complex environments, provide creative solutions in ambiguous situations, and help others do the same.”  Does this describe the leaders in you company?  If not, it’s time to change.

Adapt or Die…  The decision is yours!

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 10/06/2008

Crawford International and collaborated to conduct a study of over 200 Fortune 500 companies. One of the main points that was studied is the connection between a company's change leadership strength and financial performance over ten years. The authors report that, "companies reporting a strong and consistent application of change leadership practices cite much higher levels of financial performance than those reporting a weak application of change leadership practices."

The study found that businesses with strong change leadership practices have a net income growth over ten years of 915% while the businesses with weak change leadership practices have a net income decline of 2% over the same ten year period. Businesses with leadership in place that is prepared for change will always outperform businesses that are still trying the old outdated strategies!

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/29/2008

By Stan Truskie, Ph.D.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently criticized the US military for not doing enough to support soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, singling out the Air Force for adapting too slowly to the new enemies on those battlefields. He blamed military leaders who are “stuck in old ways of doing business”. That may sound strange to hear coming from a senior government official who knows full well that the military is steeped in the tradition of command and control leadership that creates a top-down management style and fosters orderliness and predictability, rather than innovation and adaptability.

But in a world of chaos and ever changing conditions, Mr. Gates realizes that the ability to change and adapt is key to military success: What worked well in the past may now be an outmoded and ineffective approach.

Mr. Gates is pointing out a truism that US business organizations of all types and sizes have witnessed and/or experienced during the past 75 plus years: Unadaptive organizations underperform and/or fail in the long run. Companies like Sears & Roebuck, K-Mart, Pam Am, Howard Johnsons, Armour & Company, Westinghouse Electric are examples of businesses which were once at the top of their industrial sectors only to be toppled by competitors who looked into the future, adapted and out performed them. And the way their competitors did it was with adaptive leaders, not top-down managers.

So what’s the difference between the two?

Consider top-down managers first. These managers, for the most part, are predominantly linear thinkers. Linear thinkers are rational, logical and analytical. They are mainly concerned with the present, not the future. They tend to stick with things that have worked well in the past as opposed to experimenting with the unfamiliar.

They are very organized individuals who value orderliness and predictability. They favor rules and procedures to ensure that orders from the top are followed through to the lowest level. Their mentality is that managers think, workers do (as they are told)….an idea generated by the father of management science, Frederick W. Taylor during the early 20th century. This approach worked fine back then, during the early US industrial economy. But today, things are quite different. We are now living and working in a knowledge economy.

If you have ever worked for one of these authoritative managers, you know first hand how autocratic and controlling they can be. Gather a group of these linear thinkers and place them at the top, running the organization, and guess what you get? A very rigid top-down organization that does everything by the rules, creating a bureaucracy that stifles innovation and creativity making it short-sighted, inflexible and unadaptive.

Enlightened, adaptive leaders are much different from top-down managers. They tend to be more non-linear in their thinking. These leaders are more intuitive, have greater insight, and are more creative. Being more conceptual, the see the “big picture”, are futuristic oriented, possess holistic insight and emotional intelligence.

They have greater spontaneity and flexibility—a balanced integration of rational analytical and unconventional imaginative processes. They have the ability to take a new perspective to an old complex problem and reassemble interrelated parts of the problem in novel and unusual ways leading to a viable solution. They are much better at coping with the non linear complex nature of the competitive context of our global business environment.

One would think that most of these adaptive leaders head up the newer hi-tech companies like Apple, Google, Nintendo, Microsoft and But if you look at the recent list of the top 25 innovative companies recently compiled by BusinessWeek (4/28/2008), you may be surprised to find more traditional companies such as General Electric, Toyota Motor, Hewlett Packard, Wal-Mart, and Proctor & Gamble included on the list with the newer hi-tech companies. These more traditional companies have adaptive leaders who are building cultures that value creative people in good times and bad.

The good news is that managers can change and become more adaptive leaders just as traditional companies can become more innovative. As a corporate executive leadership coach, I have worked with hundreds of managers and executives for the past 20 years and I have witnessed a transformation of many individuals who have changed from top-down managers to adaptive leaders. All thinking and behavior can be changed…it is called learning. Through assessment, self awareness, action learning, and coaching, managers can become more effective and adaptive leaders.

In essence, my experience, research and observations have led me to conclude that the assertion, “Leaders are born, not made,” is a myth.

About the Author: Stan Truskie,Ph.D. is President of MSD Leadership Consultants Inc. a Pittsburgh based firm specializing in executive coaching, change management, and leadership development with Fortune 500 companies.He is author of Leadership in High Performance Organizational Cultures and has appeared on TV/Radio.