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Adaptive leadership across boundaries Success in global business means reconciling the tensions inherent to leadership. Maarten Asser explains

cultures – in essence, to leverage differences. We came to realize that the most successful leaders’ underlying ‘living’ logic, their mindset, and their analytical thought process are based on duality rather than singularity. In other words, they enjoy working with true tensions between seemingly opposed values and opinions, whereas traditional leaders try to avoid or ignore these conflicts. These successful leaders have a fundamental skill – they are adaptable. Truly adaptive leaders are inter-culturally competent: they can value each culture in its context, and still create organizational and/or team value from the diversity of seemingly opposed cultural norms and values.

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The facets of adaptability

Dialogue Q4 2019

For more than a decade we have been asking, “can leaders be effective when taken out of their national culture?” After all, societies differ in fundamental ways. In some, the collective is more important, as in Japan. In others, say Australia, the individual comes first. If societies differ so greatly in how their inhabitants are nurtured, is it possible to adapt to new leadership norms without losing your sense of self? That is, can you both be successful abroad and remain authentic and true to your core beliefs and values? At Intercultural Business Improvement (IBI), we have worked alongside thousands of managers, and assessed leaders who work across boundaries on two critical abilities. The first is the ability to integrate differences; the second, the ability to bridge the divide across national

We created a questionnaire, the Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC), to help us distinguish between high- and low-potential integrators of seemingly opposed dualities. We now have a database of over 50,000 senior leaders in business, politics and academia from around the world. From this practical research and a large literature study, we concluded that adaptability can be assessed on the basis of four separate competencies: sensitivity, communication style, ability to build commitment, and managing uncertainty. Each measures a leader’s effectiveness in working across opposed value propositions. A score is created for each competency and they are broken down into cognitive and action-oriented facets, reflecting the importance of both thinking and doing. Figure 1 shows average scores across the entire dataset. Although the percentages of ‘advanced’ scores look reasonable, the combined ‘medium’ and ‘needs attention’ scores indicate that, across all eight facets of the competencies, widespread improvements are needed for organizations and leaders to become truly adaptive across boundaries.

What is leadership adaptability?

What we learned from our database is that the more adaptable leaders are, the more inclusive

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Dialogue Q4 2019  

Today’s global economy is shaped more by businesses than by nation states: by the goods and services they provide, the networks and supply c...

Dialogue Q4 2019  

Today’s global economy is shaped more by businesses than by nation states: by the goods and services they provide, the networks and supply c...