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.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/26/2008

Warren Bennis, leadership guru and professor at University of Southern California, wrote in his book Leading for a Lifetime:

"People with ample adaptive capacity may struggle in the crucibles they encounter, but they don't become stuck in or defined by them. They learn important lessons, including new skills that allow them to move on to new levels of achievement and new levels of learning. This ongoing process of challenge, adaptation, and learning prepares the individual for the next crucible, where the process is repeated."
Great leaders are not swallowed by the challenges of life and work. They see each difficult situation as a problem to solve and to learn from.  The lessons learned through dealing with these challenges refine the leaders and make them more prepared to tackle tasks in the future.  Adaptable leaders are always learning.  They never feel that they have already arrived.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/23/2008

The baby boomer generation is starting to retire and businesses today find themselves in a leadership crisis. Experienced business leaders are starting to retire in droves while companies are staring at a very weak bench strength.

Development Decisions International (DDI) recently published their Global Leadership Forecast for 2008/2009. In it they write, "this lack of supply of leaders is exacerbated by greater job complexity, global competition, and rising expectations for leadership." Not only is there a major void in leadership, the leaders of the future are going to have a much bigger challenge being effective in their jobs. DDI continues to report that, "55% of leaders said that their firm's performance was likely or very likely to suffer in the near future from insufficient leadership talent."

Corporate Training departments have to partner with executives to create leaders prepared for the unknown challenges of tomorrow. Leadership training must become a core focus for future organizational success to be realized.  Standing on the sidelines watching this crisis unfold is not an option.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/19/2008

Leadership training has to be modified if the goal is for an organization's leaders to be adaptable. Adaptable Leadership training requires an approach that is unique to the vast majority of leadership training available today.

Stephen Zaccaro from George Mason University says that training for adaptability requires a different approach. Traditional leadership training focuses on developing "routine expertise." This training helps leaders to perform very well in familiar situations. These leaders know that when specific challenges arise they respond in certain ways. A great example of this procedularized approach is Situational Leadership Theory from Blanchard and Hershey. Situational Leadership suggests that leaders should change their approach based on how much direction and support their followers need. As these two variables change, the leadership style changes. This traditional approach to leadership training hinders performance when problems become non-routine, novel and ill-defined (Kozlowski, 1998).

Adaptable Leadership Theory recognizes that there is a multitude of variables that impact what the best leadership approach is. Adaptable Leaders are highly self-aware. They understand their strengths, weaknesses and how they are perceived by others. Adaptable Leaders are also highly situationally aware. They have the peripheral vision to read all environmental factors that may be influencing a leadership challenge.

Training for Adaptable Leadership requires an approach completely unique to what most people are accustomed to. If you want your organizational leaders to be adaptable make sure that you train with that goal in mind. Leaders are not adaptable just because you tell them they should be.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/11/2008

Is it just me or do big companies have a hard time looking in the mirror and seeing that times have changed? What in the world are they doing trying to be successful with the plans that worked in the past. For success to happen today, organizations must adapt to the changes that surround them. Look at this video from Dan Miller, author and business coach.

Airlines have to change. It's mind boggling to me to think that some organizations can't see that what worked in the past needs to be left in the past.

Are you like the airlines or are you changing? Adaptable Leader's have the courage to look around and see when it is time to move in a new direction. Be adaptable by being courageous enough to move into uncharted territory.

Posted by Adaptable Leadership - Building Leaders for Changing Times on 9/01/2008

Speed: It's the way businesses operate today. No longer can business leaders have the luxury to take their time to move forward with strategic plans. The leaders of the future have to evaluate the situation, assimilate what they learn with what they already know and rapidly move forward with a modified plan.

The Marine Corps have a saying for their leaders, "A plan that is 70% complete implemented today is better than a plan that is 100% complete implemented in the future." The remaining 30% of the plan will be worked out as they go. This is the mindset of the leaders of tomorrow.

Jeff Wilke of Amazon explained how quickly their business was unfolding:

"So now all of a sudden you're in this period of wonderful transformation and we know it. I mean it's alive, it's tangible. Every day you sense that there's a chance to create new markets, to redistribute the players in the old markets as they shift over to the new one.... This company transforms itself on the order of months versus a number of years in an older, more established company. And the fact that you're reinventing yourself as a company means the people associated with that company have to reinvent themselves."

Reinventing yourself is hard. It requires humility and a desire to focus on the big picture goal. If winning is important you have to be completely focused on whatever strategy brings you a win. The strategy can be changed but not winning is not an option.

Successful businesses of the future must operate with a sense of urgency and agility. Learn how to think on your feet and make solid decision quickly. Commit to them and move forward with confidence. Remember... it's better to implement a plan today that is 70% there rather than to wait for a perfect plan in the future.