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and effective they are across any kind of boundaries, including different cultures. In terms of sensitivity, the most adaptable leaders are those who are exceptionally self- and culturally-aware, and are curious about picking up new signals from others. They make no assumptions about other’s habits and thought processes, as they don’t imagine them being the same as their own. The best communicators are those highly aware of their own communication style. They are able to adjust their style, verbal and nonverbal, to the needs of those they communicate with and whom they wish to understand. The best commitment builders are leaders who take time to develop deep, long-lasting relationships. They work tirelessly to satisfy individual stakeholder needs while reconciling all stakeholder needs, including their own. Those who best manage uncertainty are aware of the complexity of life and don’t attempt to simplify it. They empathetically and consciously embrace the challenges of uncertainty by remaining open to changing their own minds. They admit fallibility and vulnerability, and actively explore and support others’ viewpoints for the benefit of all involved.

Leadership adaptability in action

The critical importance of leadership adaptability was evident in a fascinating encounter I witnessed in Rwanda in March 2018. It was the first meeting between a native Rwandan neurologist, Dr Fidèle Sebara – who had been sponsored and educated by the mid-sized pharma company that brought IBI to Rwanda – and Innocent, the leader of a 500-strong group of local medicine men. These traditional healers practise medicine in rural villages, drawing on knowledge passed down through generations. Rwandan health clinics can be several days’ walking distance from villages, so locals rely on the traditional healers to cure both simple and serious ailments. We aimed to find a solution for a growing problem. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, many female patients complained about seizures, with symptoms akin to those of epilepsy patients. Traditional healers did not treat these women on the basis of the latest neurological science. We wanted to change that. Meeting for the first time, both the neurologist and the traditional healer had to

What we learned is the more adaptable leaders are, the more inclusive they are Dialogue Q4 2019


Assess your leadership adaptability with our starter list of questions to ask yourself, or for asking others to answer about you. By all means add your own. 1 How frequently and sufficiently do I question the context from which I am reasoning? 2 How do I see my own logic as a double-edged sword that I could use to hurt or disadvantage some people? 3 How do I stop thinking in singularities and start thinking in true dualities on a regular basis? 4 How can I hear what people are not telling me? 5 How can I articulate my own leadership logic transparently, and how can I clearly reason against it from its logical opposite? 6 How can I develop the specific abilities associated with resolving nonlinear problems – like framing, shaping, contextualizing, listening, resounding, and humanizing? 7 How can I remain sufficiently ambidextrous and continue to chase ‘the best of both worlds’? 8 How do I allow my holistic and integrative humanistic side to grow in a world of increasing specificity?

overcome the fear of what the other might do to their identity and stature in their respective communities. Both men had found many reasons to postpone earlier attempts to meet. The meeting had been brokered by Dr Dirk Teuwen, vice-president of corporate societal sustainability for the pharma company, himself an established Western-educated medical doctor with decades of experience working with local governments across the African continent, as well as in rural China. Aware of his own status as a mediating outsider with some influence, Teuwen managed to lead the two men to a mutually beneficial commitment by creating and holding the space, guiding the conversation through humble presence – he didn’t speak Kinyarwanda, the local language – and tone of voice, empathy, and mutual respect. Such meetings are not negotiations, and if the first meeting had been unsuccessful, it is unlikely that there would have been another. Teuwen’s ability to be adaptable – both flexible and firm, creative and consistent, goalas well as relationship-oriented – provided the context within which the two Rwandan men found a way to collaborate. The event quickly became famous among local medicine men and the medical community: in its wake, hundreds of traditional healers met Sebara in workshops, learning how they could better diagnose the neurological disorders that many patients suffered after the genocide. Literally thousands of potential neurological patients in Rwanda stand to benefit from this collaboration.

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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...