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O R G A N I Z AT I O N A L T E N S I O N S On the one hand, we want/need...

On the other hand, we want/need...







Individual bonus

Group reward

Being patient in new markets Looking out for my community/region


Short-term market demands Working on enterprise-wide needs


Central control

Courage and take risks

Caution and be careful

Short term goals and rewards

Long-term goals and rewards

Product coverage/focus

Regional focus

Micro-management culture

Empowerment style

Core strength and flexibility

Successful adaptable leadership means a new way of leading and navigating between two compelling, positively framed, and desirable value propositions. The traditional, competitive, ‘either/or’ approach isn’t very effective when it comes to reconciling widely differing value orientations. As an individual, you need a strong and consistent core and at the same time, you need to be flexible and adaptable at the boundaries, in order to provide clarity and fairness, confidence and shelter and create value for multiple stakeholders. A good metaphor is the willow tree. It has a wide network of roots extending well beyond its branches. The tree’s core – its trunk – is strong, tight and consistent, but its roots and branches are flexible and adaptable, able to sway in the storm while staying intact. In the same way, the adaptive leader requires a strong core, great self-control and self-awareness in order to stand strong, while remaining open to movement and being able to reach for new relationships, connections, learning, understanding and insight.

The value of adaptability

Most organizations consist of tensions: long-term strategy and short-term results, autonomy and collaboration, individual and team rewards, as Figure 2 illustrates. Leaders need

The adaptive leader requires a strong core while remaining open to movement

to positively (re)frame the underlying value propositions and make both sides desirable, before entering a process of reconciliation and integration to get the best of both worlds. Adaptive leaders have the potential to be very innovative, as the most interesting innovations are true integrations of cross-disciplinary tensions: it is why they are scarce, and potentially very profitable. In a world where business spans borders and boundaries, leaders need to ask questions of themselves and their environment. It is always possible to change your current logic, mindset, and conversations; to increase your adaptability. But it means honestly answering some tough questions. How inclusive a person are you? How receptive are you to different people and their science, knowledge and insights? How much time do you give people? What is your immutable core? Can you integrate new and different perspectives without feeling threatened? Answering those questions can help you to understand others, be clearer in your intentions, and come out with decisions that are better supported by those in your organizations and communities. That is the true value of adaptability. The logic of duality isn’t hard to master, as long as we focus on positively-framed and desirable opposite value propositions, and stop pitching one value against another. Such either/or thinking means putting leaders at odds with each other in divided organizations, in an already too-fragmented world. — Maarten Asser is an executive development faculty member of Duke Corporate Education, a leadership immersion designer, a global leadership expert and an executive team coach Q4 2019 Dialogue

Profile for LID Business Media

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...