Harvard professor, and change leadership and management thought leader, John Kotter defines an adaptive organisation as one where there is a strong receptivity to change and innovation, where risk taking is encouraged, and where people are pro-active and supportive of each other both in their work and personal lives. Perhaps most importantly he highlights the importance of trust – between employees and their fellow employees and between non-management and management employees.
Corporate culture experts Lisa Jackson and Gerry Schmidt define the leader of an adaptive organisation as a leader who derives, and benefits from, a strategic advantage that is the result of having built and encouraged teams and individuals who are receptive to change, who have the capacity to adapt quickly and resourcefully to opportunities and threats. They call this type of leader a “Renewable Leader”.
Given that we now operate in an environment where the marginal rate of change is increasing – and continues to do so, and is closely related to the emergence of the flat world and horizontal management, successful change leadership no longer enjoy the luxury of making decisions that affect many without reference to and inclusion of the many in the whole decision making process.
Engagement and empowerment are now the relevant buzzwords. However change leaders choose to interpret these words, and whether or not they choose to act upon them, the inescapable present reality is challenging. On the one hand a market environment of escalating change on many fronts, and on the other hand workforces with ever-increasing expectations of being “kept in the loop” and quality of working life.
In this “horizontal world”, where information is readily available to all and popular culture fuelled by technology and a proliferation of social media channels and tools demands and allows for almost immediate dissemination and comment of gossip, opinion and factual information, people want and expect to be involved and they will, and do, resist change that is imposed upon them.
In this context the leadership qualities that are required are all about a facilitative leadership style that builds teams and creates organisational environments where people make better quality and faster choices, and choices that are aligned with the organisational vision.
However, this does not come naturally to many organisational leaders reared, nurtured and sustained in the comforting routines of “command and control”.
So how does a leader become a “renewable leader”, what are the leadership qualities that make this possible? What does “engagement” and “empowerment” mean in practice?
(1) Reducing command and control
It means moving away from the habitual reactive mode of so many senior executives – especially prevalent here in the UK where I live – and abandoning the belief and practice that only senior management and organisational leaders have any monopoly on “what if” scenario planning and abandoning the even more dangerous notion that only they can anticipate change and make contingent arrangements to cope with it.
(2) Understanding and accepting that change is normal
The simple, obvious yet frightening reality is that change is natural and change is normal.
Renewable leaders understand this, and rather than thinking and acting in terms of resistance and how to deal with it, they focus on building organisations with the capabilities, capacity and cultures that are change friendly and change responsive.
Renewable leaders see strong competitive advantage in working towards this.
Renewable leaders start by becoming change friendly themselves, they develop this amongst their management teams, and they develop this across their whole organisations.
(3) Demonstrating and building trust
Renewable leaders understand the importance of trust and how trust is built when they take the time to explain decisions, when they take the time to link decisions to the organisational vision and strategy, and when they take the time to ensure that everyone understands them.
People need and want to see the connection between what they are being asked to do and the bigger picture.
Lisa Jackson and Gerry Schmidt say that a very tangible sign of a high-trust organisation is one where the “decision rights” are operating well; and this only happens when everyone is very clear about who has the authority to make which decisions and management, and employees honour those boundaries.
It does take time to build this level of trust. We are talking about trust where a team knows that their boss will not meddle or interfere with their decisions; where they trust one another and where the person making the decision does so with collaboration from the team; and where the decision is thus one that serves the objectives of the whole organisation.
These are the qualities of the renewable leader.